March 27, 2018 6:24 pm
Updated: March 27, 2018 7:38 pm

Some low-income Alberta seniors face carbon tax rebate clawback

WATCH ABOVE: People in some Alberta seniors homes can expect to see part of their carbon tax rebate clawed back to offset higher utility costs. Residents say it's outrageous and won't pay. Fletcher Kent reports.

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People living in certain seniors’ residences in Alberta will have to fork over 30 per cent of their carbon tax rebate to pay for their building’s higher utility costs.

Earlier this month, Alberta Seniors and Housing sent a letter to all seniors’ home operators telling them about the changes.

Seniors are now being told about them and many vow to fight back.

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“I’m not paying it. That’s all there is to it,” says Brian Taylor, who lives in Edmonton’s Pioneer Place Senior Citizens Apartments. “I don’t care what the government is saying. They can take me to court. They can do whatever they want.”

Some provincially-owned facilities offer subsidized rents. Residents must pay 30 per cent of their income. Often, utilities in these buildings are either included or capped.

When Alberta’s carbon tax took effect, groups operating these facilities had to pay more for natural gas and electricity but could not pass along higher costs to tenants.

READ MORE: Sundre seniors centre could close doors over carbon tax

Low-income seniors did, however, receive carbon tax rebates intended to offset their higher costs. The province decided that because the seniors did not have to pay extra for gas and electricity, their rebate would be included in their income for the purposes of determining rent.

That amounts to a 30 rebate clawback.

Taylor and his neighbour, Bernice Westfall, worry about what that means. They have come to count on the rebate.

“What are we supposed to do?” Westfall asks. “We’re not going to be eating very healthy, I’ll tell you that much.

“I don’t think the government thought this through properly.”

She too plans to refuse to pay the extra fee which she estimates will be an additional $5 per month.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but on the backs of us, it’s an awful lot,” says Westfall, who is also an AISH recipient (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped).

READ MORE: Alberta UCP leader Jason Kenney wants referendum on carbon tax hikes

Alberta’s minister of housing and seniors defends the plan, noting affected seniors will still receive 70 per cent of their rebates.

Lori Sigurdson adds something needed to be done to help groups operating the homes.

“We need to support housing management bodies that have increased heating costs,” she says. “We certainly are working very closely with them and I think we’ll have more information to share on that file shortly.”

The Alberta Seniors Communities & Housing Association (ASCHA) represents companies that operate seniors’ facilities. The group’s executive director says the carbon tax has been difficult for the ASCHA members.

Irene Martin-Lindsay estimates the carbon tax will increase natural gas bills for facilities by $6 million in 2018. That does not include higher electricity bills or other costs associated with the levy.

Allowing some of her association’s members to access a portion of residents’ rebates will help recoup between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the higher utility costs.

Martin-Lindsay says the remaining shortfall is a challenge. Members are trying to become more energy efficient to cut costs. But program and staff cuts may be necessary in some facilities. She’s hoping for a long-term, sustainable solution to the problem.

“We need to think about how we can be part of the solution. People are trying. I think we all know we want to reduce our carbon footprint, but we also want to make sure we’re delivering people services.”

The province owns most of the buildings affected by the new carbon tax rebate refund. Housing management bodies operate the facilities and any deficits are covered by the province following an annual budget review.

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