Province won't cut benefits this year for young adults formerly in government care

·3 min read
Minister of Children's Services Rebecca Schultz confirmed Thursday that program participants will not be cut off this year. (Rebecca Schultz/Facebook - image credit)
Minister of Children's Services Rebecca Schultz confirmed Thursday that program participants will not be cut off this year. (Rebecca Schultz/Facebook - image credit)

The Alberta government has backed off on plans to cut off benefits for hundreds of young adults formerly in the province's care.

On Thursday, Minister of Children's Services Rebecca Schultz confirmed that participants in the Support and Financial Assistance Agreements (SFAA) between the ages of 22 and 24 will continue to receive benefits this year.

"Only because we want to make sure that no young adult is left without supports at a difficult time — we are in the middle of a pandemic," Schultz said on Thursday during a review of her ministry's budget estimates.

"It's making sure that caseworkers have the time that they need to work with these young adults to transition them to not only adult support services or into independence, but to make sure that they have the networks that they need to be successful in those placements."

The reprieve comes after the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Alberta government last month. The ruling overturned a lower court decision to grant an injunction that prevented changes to the program until a constitutional challenge from one of the participants could be heard.

The injunction was granted in March 2020, just as changes were about to kick in that would have reduced the age eligibility from 18 to 24 years of age to 18 to 22.

The change amounted to a $14.3 million reduction in the program's budget, but in response to questions from NDP Children's Services critic Rakhi Pancholi on Thursday, Schultz confirmed that the money has been reinstated.

Pancholi said the reversal should be permanent to support those in need.

"They've been clear that cutting these supports would cause significant trauma, and they've already led lives filled with trauma," Pancholi said.

"I'm glad the minister has done the right thing to support these young adults this year. I'm now asking her to do the right thing for the years to come as this issue is not going away."

Legal fight continues

Despite the government's reversal, the young single mother behind the legal challenge is continuing her fight.

The woman, who turned 22 in August, says that the abrupt change would force her to abandon her six-year educational plan to become employable and return to sex work, which could result in the apprehension of her daughter.

Lawyer Avnish Nanda says his client A.C. will ask the Supreme Court of Canada to reverse the injunction dismissal.
Lawyer Avnish Nanda says his client A.C. will ask the Supreme Court of Canada to reverse the injunction dismissal. (Peter Evans/CBC)

On Thursday, A.C.'s lawyer said they are preparing a submission for the Supreme Court of Canada to reconsider the injunction dismissal by the Court of Appeal.

In the interim, the Court of Appeal will also hear their application next month asking for participants to continue to receive benefits until the Supreme Court of Canada decides whether to hear their appeal.

"I think it's remarkable that A.C., given her circumstances, has managed to make this government blink and walk back a portion of it's proposed cut to the SFAA program," said A.C.'s lawyer Avnish Nanda.

"It's great news, but it has to be extended even further. This government should follow the approach of its predecessors and experts in the field who have all found that these supports are necessary for youth from marginalized background to live healthy and sustainable lives as adults."