Manitoba

Manitoba Tories clawing back rental benefit for people with mental disabilities

The Pallister government says it will stop giving a rental benefit up to $200 to about 550 people living with mental health disabilities because they were getting more money than the cost of their actual rent once combined with another benefit.

Province says clients were getting more cash than actual rent through NDP-introduced program

Minister Heather Stefanson says the changes to the portable housing benefit will ensure no one is getting more than their actual rent. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

The Pallister government says it will stop giving a rental benefit up to $200 to about 550 people living with mental health disabilities because they were getting more money than the cost of their actual rent once combined with another form of assistance.

The province confirmed Monday that starting next February, the portable housing benefit will only be given to people when Rent Assist doesn't fully cover the cost of their rent up to a maximum of $200. The changes will impact about 550 people, according to a government spokesperson.

The portable housing benefit was introduced by the former NDP government in 2011. It was meant to be a rent supplement for low-income people who live with mental health disabilities and live in unstable housing situations.

The program's procedural manual says the benefit was to be the difference between the monthly amount paid for by social assistance and the actual rent up to $200.

But Families Minister Heather Stefanson told reporters that wasn't how the program was actually working.

Families Minister Heather Stefanson says 3,000 more people are now on the Rent Assist program as a result of changes the Tories have made. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"What was happening is that people were getting housing benefits that exceeded the rents that they paid and so obviously we think that shouldn't be the case and that it should only be up to the actual rent amount itself and so that makes sense and allows us to offer more money in the way of affordable housing benefits for more Manitobans."

She said her government is providing rental income assistance to 3,000 more people than the former government through the Rent Assist program, which recently underwent changes.

NDP mental health and addictions critic Bernadette Smith said the change to the portable benefit will hit the wallets of the poor who live with mental disabilities hard.

"So $200 a month from a person with mental health issues is a lot of money. It means these people might have to get their cellphones cut off, their internet cut off and that's social isolation."

She said people living with mental health challenges have extra needs, which the benefit helps pay for.

"These are people who are dealing with mental health issues that may need to take a bus or a cab to get some support, that may need to have internet or a cellphone to get the supports they need in their homes."

NDP mental health and addictions critic Bernadette Smith said the changes will hit the wallets of the poor who live with mental disabilities hard. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"At a time where we're dealing with a mental health crisis in our province this isn't the time to be cutting. We're going backwards. This province should be investing in people who are dealing with mental health issues not less."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said one of the most common complaints he gets is about the province's social assistance program.

"Manitoba's social assistance is some of the most sadistic programs anywhere in Canada they're completely underfunded. Some of them haven't changed in 27 years."

He said changes the Tories recently made to the Rent Assist program were a step in the right direction but called for more to be done overall. "We need to take this much more seriously."

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

With files from Kristin Annable

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