Alberta affordability payments starting by the end of the month, government says

Technology and Innovation Minister Nate Glubish announces an online portal will open Jan. 18, 2023, where about two million Albertans can apply for a $100 monthly affordability payment for the next six months.  (Janet French/CBC - image credit)
Technology and Innovation Minister Nate Glubish announces an online portal will open Jan. 18, 2023, where about two million Albertans can apply for a $100 monthly affordability payment for the next six months. (Janet French/CBC - image credit)

More than two million Albertans can begin applying online on Jan. 18 for government affordability payments, the province announced Monday.

About 300,000 more people enrolled in provincial benefit programs like Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and income supports will automatically receive their first of six monthly $100 affordability payments on Jan. 31, cabinet ministers also revealed.

"We've been working hard to set up a system that is accessible, fast and safe for the millions of Albertans that will benefit from these needed affordability payments," Matt Jones, minister of affordability and utilities, said at a news conference at the legislature.

Children's Services Minister Mickey Amery said foster and kinship caregivers will also be eligible for the payments of $100 per child for the next six months. They will receive the money automatically at the end of the month along with regular monthly benefits.

"This has been such a tough time for families and caregivers — lying awake at night, wondering how to deal with their bills, wondering what they'll have to go without this month," Amery said.

Ideally, the benefits will help prevent parents from choosing between sending children to extracurricular activities and paying for food, shelter and utilities, he said.

First announced in November, the government pledged the $100 monthly payments to seniors and parents whose household income is less than $180,000 a year, along with vulnerable people who receive AISH, income support, disability payments or seniors' benefits.

Albertans have been waiting to hear when that money will flow and how they can apply for the relief.

The measures are supposed to help people cope with the rising cost of living as inflation rose nearly seven per cent during the last year.

Technology and Innovation Minister Nate Glubish urged people who plan to apply online to log onto the government's affordability website now to register for a verified account or check if they already have such an account.

A government press release said Albertans have until June 30 to apply for the payments, which can be distributed retroactively. Eligibility will be based on a person's 2021 income.

Barriers to access

Terry Price, chairperson of Public Interest Alberta and leader of the organization's seniors' task force, says she'd hoped the affordability payments would come with fewer barriers to seniors.

The older demographic includes people who are among the least comfortable using technology to apply for programs, she said. Travelling to a registry or Alberta Supports office would also be a hurdle for those who no longer drive, she added.

"This idea of a brand new portal when many of us are finally comfortable with the CRA [website] and direct deposit, it just seems like an additional barrier," she said.

Erick Ambtman, executive director of End Poverty Edmonton, applauded the government for recognizing people are struggling with costs and need financial help quickly.

He doesn't understand why the province wanted to create its own application portal, and worries the system will prevent some eligible people from receiving the payments.

"The most Alberta thing you can do is make your own system that runs parallel to existing ones," Ambtman said.

Online portal launch

The province's online application portal will pose questions to users to screen out people who are ineligible, Glubish said. Users will have to provide banking information, and the government will deposit the money into most bank accounts by the end of the month, depending on when the application was completed.

The provincial government has previously launched online application portals for temporary benefits that hit big technical snags, leaving thousands of people frustrated.

Glubish said the affordability payments portal should be able to handle millions of users at once.

"I have every confidence in the systems we have set up," he said.

Last year, the premier also tasked Jones with exploring ways to curtail the rising cost of auto insurance.

The affordability minister said on Monday he's consulting with the insurance industry and that all options are on the table. He did not have a timeline.