Government maps out poverty plan

The P.E.I. government mapped out plans Wednesday to protect and support low income Islanders over the next three years.

The province will spend an extra $4 million to help people at risk

The P.E.I. government mapped out plans Wednesday to protect and support low income Islanders over the next three years.

Community Services and Seniors Minister Valerie Docherty said the province will spend an extra $4 million to help supplement rent, to establish two new daycares and to help seniors renovate their own homes.

"This plan is not simply a group of initiatives that will begin today and end in three years," Docherty said, "rather it is the beginning of a deliberate on-going process."

Leo Cheverie, president of the P.E.I. Federation of Labour, told CBC he doesn’t think the new plan is directly addressing a reduction in poverty.

"This seemed to be more of a reiteration of existing programs and policies to some extent," he said, "And I didn’t see any definite targets of how we’re going to reduce poverty in this province."

According to a government discussion paper published in 2011, the poverty rate on the Island is 4.8 per cent, which government said is the lowest level ever.

But the unemployment rate is at about 11 per cent.

Chris West told CBC News he has a criminal record, and that makes it hard to find a job. For now, the 18-year-old is on welfare.

"Welfare only pays you at the first of the month. What are you supposed to do with $233 a month? You're supposed to make it stretch the whole month," West said.

"It's not possible. It's not possible at all. I've tried."

Docherty said this is just the beginning.

"At the end of all of this, if we had the money, we could start implementing significant changes," she said, "but at the end of the day, the biggest thing we have to do is educate and find good jobs."

The plan builds on many existing social programs

The province said it invests more than $100 million a year in programs directly aimed at reducing poverty. Since 2009 more than $16 million in new funding has been added to those programs.

The new plan announced Wednesday includes 60 additional rent supplements through a new investment of $800,000, new grants of up to $5,000 to help families renovate their homes to keep seniors at home longer, two early years’ centers, a $500 increase in seniors home repair program grant, and lower drug costs through new generic drug programs.

Some details of the program were already announced including, a review of mental health and addictions services, and HST exemptions and rebates for low and modest income families.

Employment Insurance changes could add to Island poverty

Docherty worries recent federal EI changes could hurt Islanders at risk.

"When you have a province like ours who depends so much on our three primary industries, which are seasonal, it really does make a big difference," Docherty said.

"We're doing as much as we can to put pressure on the federal government to look at us as being different from a larger province."

Harold Dalton draws EI in the winters and said he’s worried about the effect EI changes will have on him this winter.

"Especially with the EI, if they’re going to change that around, I don't know what’s going to take place this winter," Dalton said, "I’ve got a bad back that I can’t just do certain types of jobs."

Dalton is also worried about what effect the HST will have.

"For myself personally, it's going to hurt when the new tax comes in. Because my rent will go up, first of all because of the new HST," he said.

"They just got to create some more jobs. I know it's hard to do with what the situation is, the financial situation."

The government said it intends to hold community consultations on the plan but Chris West is worried, now.

"I went to welfare and I'm only on temporary. I've got about two months left of welfare before I have to get a job, before they're going to kick me off. It's hard to do with no jobs around, right? So it's getting worse and worse," he said.