Alberta Budget 2015: Skepticism over long-term initiatives to help low-income families
EDMONTON — The government vowed to help working families in its 2015 budget, but critics are casting doubt on some of the promises made.
“I don’t trust them at all,” said NDP MLA Brian Mason.
“I think that they’ve come up with an election budget and after the election I think there’s a very good chance they’ll change it and do something a little bit harsher that they don’t want the public to see before the election.”
The 2015-16 budget tabled Thursday increases taxes and fees virtually across the board and runs the largest deficit in Alberta’s history at $5 billion.
On Friday, the province explained how two initiatives will help low and middle-income families.
The existing Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit will be increased from eight per cent to 11 per cent of annual working income over $2,760 starting July, 2016. The phase-out threshold will also go up from $36,778 to $41,250, “allowing families to earn more before these benefits start to phase out,” according to the budget’s tax plan.
The changes to the tax credit will provide roughly $25 million in additional support for 25,000 lower and middle-income families, according to the province.
The government also announced a new refundable tax credit in the 2015 budget: the Alberta Working Family Supplement. The new program applies to working families earning between $2,760 and $41,220. Those with one child are eligible for up to $1,100 each year, plus as much as $550 more for any additional children up to a maximum of $2,750.
The government estimates this will provide an additional $85 million each year to about 75,000 working families.
“I think most of us who have raised children know the cost of raising children, how challenging it is for parents to raise families and deal with the costs today. And, so, we believe this will make a real difference,” said Premier Jim Prentice.
Critics raise concern the initiatives won’t begin for another 15 months, if at all.
“Let’s not forget they promised to end child poverty in five years three years ago and they’ve done absolutely nothing,” said Mason.
“I think the chances that this program will actually take place are probably pretty slim.”
The initiatives are part of the province’s Alberta Poverty Reduction Strategy.
“They’ll be part of Budget 2016 rather than Budget 2015, so that’s a concern,” said John Kolkman, with the Edmonton Social Planning Council, “particularly considering that a lot of the new user fees and so on are going to kick in immediately.”
Minister of Human Services Heather Klimchuk also announced the government is putting $1.05 million towards opening three additional Parent Link Centres, which aim to provide parents and caregivers with free resources and support.
The three centres will be in Edmonton City Centre, Innisfail and Sylvan Lake.
“The centres will be located in centres where early development instrument results indicate children are experiencing greater mental difficulty than the provincial average,” said Klimchuk.
The three additional centres will bring the total number of Parent Link Centres across the province to 53.
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