No kids? No cash: Many working Albertans won't receive government's inflation-busting benefits

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith promised measures to help Albertans deal with the high cost of living during a televised address Tuesday.  (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith promised measures to help Albertans deal with the high cost of living during a televised address Tuesday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Alberta's affordability minister is defending a new program that provides cash for families, seniors and people who receive social benefits but cuts out single working people with low incomes.

On Tuesday, Premier Danielle Smith announced in a televised address that families earning up to $180,000 a year will be given $600 for each dependent child aged six months and older. The benefit will also be extended to seniors and recipients of income support, assured income for the severely handicapped (AISH), and persons with developmental disabilities (PDD) funding.

An adult working 40 hours a week at Alberta's $15-per-hour minimum wage rate takes home about $31,200 a year. However, that person would not qualify for the $600 government payment unless they are a senior or have a child.

"We must target additional supports to where they're needed most," Matt Jones, Alberta's minister for affordability and utilities, said Wednesday.

"Seniors and disabled Albertans and families with a large number of dependents would seem to be worthy recipients of additional targeted supports," he said.

Jones said the $180,000 figure is based on the threshold used for child care supports. He said childless Albertans should see benefits from other affordability measures, such as suspension of the provincial fuel tax and electricity rebates over the winter.

The affordability measures are expected to start in January, with more details coming early next month. Those details will be contained within enabling legislation the government hopes to pass during the four-week fall sitting that starts on Tuesday.

Jones made the comments at a news conference announcing $10 million in funding over two years for Alberta Food Banks. The province will also provide another $10 million in matching funds over the same period toward food banks, charities, not-for-profits and civil society organizations.

Arianna Scott, president of Alberta Food Banks, said that aside from $6 million in COVID-19 support, this funding is the first food banks have received from the provincial government.

"This is a first," she said. "So this is pretty significant for us."

'Frantic plan'

Smith is facing criticism that the new affordability measures are an effort to buy votes leading up to the next provincial election in May 2023.

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the plan "a pre-election gift card" that was pulled together without much thought.

She said cash benefit plan excludes many Albertans who need help, such as single working adults without children or childless couples who are cobbling together a family income by working multiple minimum wage jobs.

Notley said the measure looks like "a back-of-the-napkin kind of frantic plan that was thrown together by a premier … who's just really not very good at at governing."

In 2019, former premier Jason Kenney and his government removed cost-of-living increases from AISH, income support and other social benefits as a cost-cutting measure.

Since then, high inflation has drastically eroded what people can afford, driving many to seek help from food banks.

While Smith is pledging to bring back indexing starting in January, Notley said the measure still leaves benefit recipients $3,000 short of where they would have been if the government had left payments alone three years ago.

In Smith's nine-minute address on Tuesday evening, she discussed rebates to help people facing high electricity bills and measures to prevent rate spikes over the winter months.

She wants to remove the provincial fuel tax for at least six months to help lower the price of gas. She re-announced former premier Jason Kenney's plan to start indexing tax brackets to the rate of inflation starting with the 2022 tax season.

In addition to helping food banks, Smith said she wants to fund more low-income transit passes.