AISH and seniors benefits will increase with cost of living under NDP bill

The province is boosting rates for Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program in an effort to reflect the rising cost of living, says Premier Rachel Notley.

Legislation tabled Thursday ties AISH, income support and seniors benefits to the consumer price index, matching a policy in Quebec, Yukon and Manitoba. AISH is among the province’s largest social assistance programs and supports adult Albertans who have a permanent disability that curtails their ability to earn a livelihood.

The bill also bumps the maximum monthly core benefit rate for a single person covered by AISH from $1,588 to $1,685. The several other programs receiving small boosts include income support for people facing barriers to full employment and disposable income for seniors in the lodge program.

If passed, Bill 26 would take effect Jan. 1. The changes will cost an estimated $194 million annually.

“Soon after we got elected, the price of oil dropped … we were struggling with some significant fiscal issues,” Notley said at a Thursday news conference. “We wanted to move forward on this from pretty much Day 1, but we had a lot of things to balance.”

The last increase to AISH benefit rates and income support happened in 2012, with seniors benefits receiving the last bump in 2009.

Ian Young, who started receiving AISH benefits in 2004 after suffering an injury, said it’s gratifying to have his concerns addressed.

“All recipients of AISH and their families are well aware that we live in poverty year after year,” he said. “Individuals have to rely on family, use the food bank, go without transportation.

“Indexing (the rates) will take away a bit of the frustration,” he said.

Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir said the government consulted with a range of people and groups over the summer.

Other changes under the new rules will include increasing the asset limit to access the AISH child allowance from $3,000 to $100,000.

“We heard from Albertans that … it was another hoop they were asked to jump through,” Sabir said. “Once you’re qualified for AISH, you’re looking after your child, you should get the benefit and you should have resources.”

About eight per cent of AISH recipients have children, said the province. AISH = 60,000 and Seniors benefits is 160,000 and income support is 63,000.

Nearly 250,000 Albertans receive support through the three programs targeted Thursday; 160,000 people receive seniors’ benefits, 63,000 receive income support and about 60,000 qualify for AISH.

The bill also makes legislative amendments that will allow both AISH and income support clients to appeal directly to the ministry if they are found to have received overpayments. Previously the appeals from income support clients solely went to a citizen-led appeal panel.

Earlier this year, the province passed legislation that aimed to help parents set aside financial support for children with disabilities without risking their access to AISH benefits.

Previously, Albertans with assets totalling more than $100,000 weren’t eligible to receive AISH, which made it difficult to set up savings such as a family trust. The legislation closed the gap to allow trusts to be set up worth more than the asset threshold.

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