Changes coming to Alberta's troubled support program for severely disabled adults

Changes coming to Alberta's troubled support program for severely disabled adults

The Alberta government is planning major changes to improve its troubled income and benefits program for severely disabled adults who are unable to work.

The plan to improve the Assisted Income for Severely Handicapped (AISH) program was revealed Wednesday after the government posted its response to criticisms made by auditor general Merwan Saher. 

Last November, Saher found the AISH application process made it difficult for people to get benefits.

The assessment process was complicated and lengthy, and decisions over who qualified for benefits were inconsistent, he said.

AISH is administered by Community and Social Services, which, according to the government's response, has already simplified the application form. It plans to put the application process online this fall.

A new user-friendly guide about applying for AISH will be made available this month.

Starting this spring, the department will analyze the instances where an application initially denied was approved upon appeal.

The appeal process itself will be placed under the ministry's appeal secretariat to provide better support.

By December, the ministry will start tracking more indicators to gauge how well the program is working.

The indicators include the average time required for approval, how long it take applicants to get benefits, how often applications are turned down and the number of times decisions are overturned on appeal.

The ministry posted the response to the auditor general's report on its website with little fanfare Wednesday evening.

The next morning, Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir appeared before the standing committee on families and communities to discuss his ministry's budget estimates.

Committee member Angela Pitt, a Wildrose MLA, said the way the plan was released makes it difficult for the opposition to do its job of holding the government to account.

"This government didn't even send out a press release in regards to their AISH overhaul and I think the timing is very, very poor," she said.

Pitt said Sabir had few answers to her questions during the estimates.

"He seemed, actually, himself very confused as to where this money is going, how much it's going to cost and what they're actually doing."

AISH provides $1 billion in benefits each year to more than 50,000 Albertans.