Albertans react to the 2024 indexing of social assistance rates
- Angie Brown
We asked for Disability Action Hall members' thoughts on the recent December
15th announcement of the Alberta Government fulfilling the 2023 campaign
promise to continue to index social assistance every year. For 2024, there will
be a 4.25%$ increase in Alberta’s social assistance programs like Assured
Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), Alberta Income Supports, and Special
Needs Assistance for Seniors, which will help with the cost of living. Most of our
members said that the AISH increase to $ 1863 a month (an increase of 76
dollars more from $1787) is a step in the right direction, and they see it as one
step closer to living out of poverty. Many Albertans are falling further and further
behind since benefits were paused back in 2020. Moreover, in the past year, many more Albertans
have struggled with rising costs for food, rent, and utilities. Statistics
Canada just released the market basket measures update last month, and now Calgary is the most expensive city to live in
among the ten provinces in Canada.
Reggie states, “The indexing increase is something, but it could be more. Since the reindexing of benefits in January 2023, I still had to move back home to live with my parents as social assistance has not kept pace with rising costs.” Typically, social assistance rates are slow to respond to make life affordable. Despite the 4.24% increase. Reggie continues, “Living alone is not an option due to high increases in rent.” Liv. Rent [i]reports the one-bedroom unit increased 13.9% since November 2022 to $1678 for an unfurnished apartment.
With a 5.5 billion surplus, Hall members are now challenged on how Albertans will try to make every dollar count for 2024. Eliza suggests, “I agree every little bit helps. Regardless, I don't think the rent should've been inflated anyway. Even though we are grateful for the increase, we should not have to fight for increments. Why does it have to be inches? We want a little bit more. Twelve months is a long time to wait to index the benefits. Maybe it could increase by $ 75 every three months vs every year; that way, it would be a more significant jump to address living costs.“
In November 2023, the Stats Canada 2017-2022 survey reported, [ii]“People with disabilities are at a far greater risk of living in poverty than people without disabilities. Nearly 30% of those with more severe disabilities lived in poverty in 2017. Those who had severe disabilities and lived alone were the most likely to live in poverty at over 60%. Before the pandemic, over one million Canadians with a disability lived in poverty.”
“We don’t deserve to be kept in poverty because we are disabled; it’s not our fault we are disabled; nobody chooses to live in poverty and live in a system that does not allow them to make a livelihood for themselves. And at the same time, we are also concerned about the many Albertans who rely on the Alberta Works Income Supports program and how Albertans are getting by.” Says Alex.
Many are thankful for the provincial program and the health benefits provided. However, 2024 will be another year of trying to pay for food, heat, and other essentials for many across Canada. Mother Debbie and daughter Amber used to live in Ontario, where the program for people with disabilities, known as ODSP, is $ 1000 a month; Debbie, who is Amber’s Mom, says, “If you are lucky, you will get an extra $300 for diapers. That’s a huge difference; in Ontario, the diaper and passport funding help if you want to work and swim, but you don’t get it directly; you can sign up for it.” Amber says “I am very grateful for what I get in Alberta. I had to pay for an extension for bags and tubes in Ontario, which was free in Alberta. We are all feeling very blessed.”
At the same time, not all Albertans in the AISH program understand or are overwhelmed with navigating the benefits between their doctor and AISH worker to assist with medical needs. “It’s frustrating to hear how one person is eligible for medical assistance. Meanwhile, I struggle to pay for my medical needs. It’s not easy for me to go and visit a doctor and go through all the eligibility processes. It can be frustrating as I cannot afford a medical device and groceries.” Says Alex.
Hall members also challenge the public notion of being grateful for
what we get. Mike says, “I guess it’s just the word "gratitude.” I get
very emotional about the things I'm grateful for: my friends, my wife, my
family, and other things. I'm not grateful that the government let me buy an
extra bottle of dish soap. I'm not okay with letting them pat themselves on the
back for doing the bare minimum.” Jennifer provides a solution and adds, “While
we welcome the increase, social assistance rates based on a measurement of what
it costs to live in Calgary would be a genuine change in policy to improve
affordability for Albertans.”