FREDERICTON — New Brunswick became the latest Atlantic province to roll out an aid program targeting the rising cost of living with a $13.2-million package announced Wednesday.
The province will distribute $225 to low-income individuals and $450 to families, Premier Blaine Higgs said, adding that more than 75,000 residents are eligible for the money. The funding will be given to people who are already receiving provincial low-income or housing benefits.
"We wanted to get it to a targeted group and get it out quickly and be able to benefit now," Higgs told reporters at the legislature.
"The current economic situation is having a severe impact on New Brunswickers, most particularly low-income individuals, families and seniors," Higgs said.
But opposition parties say the package is too narrow.
"The average workers of this province are not getting any benefits from this announcement," interim Liberal leader Roger Melanson told reporters.
"We had proposed to lower the provincial gas tax by 10 cents," he said. "That would have had a significant benefit for people that are working but are still struggling to pay for their groceries, provide for their families and putting gas in the tank."
Green Party Leader David Coon said New Brunswickers need more than a one-time payment. "People need additional money in their pocket month in and month out right now," he said.
Higgs said his government looked at a variety of models used across the country to address inflation, adding that his priority was to do something quickly.
"For us, it was trying to have a model where we could react quickly and would hit those who are most vulnerable right now," Higgs said, noting that he expects assistance will be in place before the end of this month.
As part of the program announced Wednesday, the government is also contributing an extra $1 million to food banks to help them meet increased demand. It is the second $1-million contribution made to New Brunswick food banks since March.
Prince Edward Island announced an inflation relief program in March that offers one-time payments of up to $150 for low-income Islanders.
Newfoundland and Labrador said last week it would temporarily cut the provincial gas tax in half to reduce costs at the pump.
In Nova Scotia, Finance Minister Allan MacMaster has said a second relief package for lower-income Nova Scotians would be coming soon. MacMaster says the province is not looking to cut gasoline taxes but rather to build on an aid package that was announced in March.
That $13.2-million package included a one-time payment of $150 to people on income assistance and to those eligible to receive the province’s heating assistance rebate.
Representatives from Nova Scotia food banks and food security experts told a legislature committee Wednesday that rising inflation — in particular higher food costs — is putting significant pressure on Nova Scotians. Food prices in the province were up 9.8 per cent in April from a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada.
Feed Nova Scotia’s executive director, Nick Jennery, told the committee that about twice as many Nova Scotians visited a food bank for the first time in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period last year.
A 2020 Statistics Canada report found that between 2017 and 2018, Nova Scotia had the highest rate of food insecurity of any Canadian province, with 15.4 per cent of households experiencing some level of food insecurity. The rate of food insecurity is four times worse for people who are Indigenous or Black, Jennery said. The agency defines food insecurity as the inability to access a sufficient quantity or variety of food because of financial constraints.
“Thousands of our neighbours were food insecure long before the current rise in food costs, and today’s cost of living has deepened the crisis,” Jennery said.
Joy King, a principal for Uniacke District School, said she sees more and more hungry children at school. The pre-primary to Grade 9 school has expanded its food program to offer snacks to students throughout the day.
King told the committee that in order to offer food to all the children who need it, the school has spent more on food over the last three months than it did in the entire last school year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Kevin Bissett and Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press