150 cut off from Rent Assist after income threshold drops

Changes to eligibility rules that came into effect on July 1st mean 150 households that once qualified for a part of the Rent Assist program are no longer eligible because their incomes are higher than the program is now allowing.

'Will make it more difficult for people to transition off of welfare and into employment': Housing coalition

Changes to Rent Assist may affect 150 households (CBC)

Changes to the Rent Assist program that came into effect on July 1 mean 150 households no longer qualify for support, because their incomes are higher than the program now allows. 

The changes to the Rent Assist program are for households that do not receive Employment and Income Assistance (EIA).

Rent Assist recipients will now have to contribute 28% of their income to rent, up from 25%. That change puts the earnings threshold lower; for a single-person household, it's down from $25,584 to $24,129.

Eligible incomes for Rent Assist
Household sizeFormerlyAs of July 1
Single$25,584 $24,129
2 adults $29,040$27,386
2 adults, 1 child $36,384$33,729
3-4 people $36,384$33,729
5+ people $40,800$42,000

A department of Families spokesperson said despite fewer people qualifying for the benefit, the government won't save money from the change — because the number of people applying for support is growing.

The government has been tinkering with several aspects of housing assistance since taking office in April 2016.

Kirsten Bernas of the Right to Housing coalition said the changes erode efforts to help people get over the "welfare wall."

Harder to transition off welfare: Bernas

"It is those folks that are not on EIA that are affected by this change. The idea was you would continue to receive your benefit when you moved off EIA ... this change is now reducing that support. So it will make it more difficult for people to transition off of welfare and into employment," Bernas said. 

The changes have Bernas and the Right to Housing coalition scratching their heads about the goal of the current government.
Kirsten Bernas of Right to Housing coalition says housing is most pressing issue for people who are living in poverty (CBC)

"I know the [Progressive] Conservative party campaigned on eliminating the welfare wall, so I am not really sure how this new policy is consistent with that campaign commitment. I don't see that," Bernas said.

A spokesperson for Families Minister Scott Fielding wrote to CBC News saying the PC government increased the budget for non-EIA Rent Assist by more than $30 million in 2017-18, compared to 2016-17 levels. 

"The changes are occurring to ensure the Rent Assist program remains sustainable and helps the Manitobans who need it most," said the spokesperson.​

Get Started Benefit cut, saving $200K

The PC government has also eliminated another source of funding for low-income people.

The Get Started Benefit is not related to Rent Assist, but to Employment Income Assistance (EIA). The one-time payment is supposed to help with unexpected costs when participants leave EIA for work. 

Over 1,000 people received the assistance in 2016-17. The government will save approximately $200,000 by cutting the benefit.