Officials in the Nova Scotia government are considering whether to raise income levels that allow people to qualify for some social support programs in the province — many of which have not changed in years, Premier Tim Houston told the legislature on Tuesday
The news comes as the government is under growing pressure to provide more support for people struggling to deal with the rising cost of living.
Despite targeted spending for seniors and families, opposition parties and community groups say government efforts don't go far enough and that people who have never needed help before now find themselves turning to food banks and other community agencies.
Houston told reporters that his government has been monitoring the situation and recognizes the need to act. One of the programs being reviewed is the heating assistance rebate program, he said.
"We're trying to find ways to support Nova Scotians that are sustainable in the long term and that's always our objective, so we'll look at all of the programs," he said.
The premier said changes could come sometime between now and the tabling of the provincial budget next year
"We want to find ways to support Nova Scotians. They're struggling with inflation, they're struggling with the cost of living. So sometimes government is able to move very quickly, sometimes there's more work that is involved."
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said all programs should be reviewed to ensure they're helping as many people as possible, but he said the government also needs to review its income assistance rates.
Changes also need to be indexed so they keep pace with inflation, Churchill told reporters.
Indexing income assistance to inflation means payments are raised when the cost of living goes up.
"People on income assistance will not be able to continue to put food on the table during this inflationary period if their income does not go up and it just makes sense to index the supports that they're getting, which are meant to be temporary, to inflation."
NDP Leader Claudia Chender said the government needs to act as soon as possible because temperatures are dropping and an increasing number of people are struggling to afford to heat their homes.
But while her caucus welcomes any immediate help to make it easier for people to pay for groceries and home heating, Chender said there are systemic problems that can only be addressed through the indexing of programs and an increase in income assistance rates.
"We need a systemic intervention," she told reporters.
"We need indexing. It's really important that people have the certainty of knowing that they can remain in their homes and they can feed their families."
Houston said indexing is not being considered at this time, but it could be discussed at a later date.
"For right now, we're doing kind of a sincere, fulsome review of what's possible and that would start with looking at the initial thresholds," he said.
A spokesperson for the premier later said that any changes to the income assistance rates would require "a stringent budgetary process" and it's too soon to say what could be possible.
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