End of home energy rebate program surprises some low-income New Brunswickers
$100 rebate helped about 33,000 households annually, opposition says
Lloyd George was counting on a rebate cheque from the province to help lower his winter heating bills.
But after going to Service New Brunswick to apply, he was told the program was over. That meant the Woodstock resident, and other low-income families across the province, would no longer be eligible for $100 to offset power.
"I know it's only $100," George said. "But $100 is $100 in these trying times. I was very much in shock."
The Home Energy Assistance Program was put in place by the Liberals in 2016 for five years. The current government has chosen not to renew it.
Robert Gauvin, Shediac Bay-Dieppe MLA and social development critic for the Liberals, said the program was effective and could have easily been extended.
"People don't understand — why cut this $100?" he said. "That's not a lot of money for some people, but for some it makes all the difference in the world."
Robert Duguay, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, said there are a number of programs to help seniors and low-income households with heating costs.
"This program came to an end and was not cut," he wrote in an email.
'A lot of people would rely on it'
Application forms to apply for the energy rebate were typically available in early January.
George files taxes for seniors in the community and he said the end of the program is a shock to many of them.
"Why they would cancel it, and why not tell anyone that they had cancelled it at all, is beyond my comprehension. A lot of people would rely on it," he said in an interview.
About 33,000 New Brunswick families received the rebate annually, according to the opposition.
George said benefits such as the energy program have an impact in helping make ends meet with costs climbing for groceries and gas.
"It's going to affect a lot of people, it means they have to cough up an extra $100 they were looking forward to, to offset these heating costs," he said.
"If people were told beforehand they may have made other arrangements."
New housing benefit
Duguay said available resources include provincial energy efficiency programs and the low-income annual seniors benefit of $400
The new Canada Housing Benefit program was expanded in December. That short-term benefit supports families with a household income between $12,000 and $50,000.
People eligible for the program receive an average of $300 to $475 per month, depending income, household composition and location, according to Duguay.
The provincial government expects it to support about 6,700 households.
Will the new housing program be enough to offset the end of the energy rebate? The opposition critic said he isn't sure.
"It's incomprehensible right now," Gauvin said. "Why would they stop this program that was working so well for around 100,000 people in New Brunswick?"
Anyone facing an emergency situation regarding winter heating should call Social Development at 1-833-733-7835.
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