British Columbia is making transit free for kids under 12 and hiking income assistance and disability support payments in its 2021 budget, released Tuesday.
The new free transit provision is slated to take effect in September, as students return to school, and is aims to help the province meet its climate goals, boost transit ridership and support low-income families.
The province said it will apply to an estimated 340,000 children.
In areas served by TransLink, the province estimates the move will save families $672 per child annually, while in BC Transit areas, the savings are estimated at up to $400.
The program will cost the province $26 million per year, with some funding coming from the federal Safe Restart Agreement.
Transit ridership has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with TransLink trip numbers plateauing at about 40 per cent of their pre-COVID levels.
Meanwhile, income and disability assistance payments for about 240,000 people will climb by $175 per month.
The move will give B.C. the highest welfare rate in the country and the third highest disability rate, according to the Ministry of Finance.
The province first announced the increase last month.
Under the new rates, a single person on income assistance will receive $935 per month and a single person on disability assistance will receive $1,358.42.
A couple on income assistance will receive $1,427.22 per month and a couple on disability assistance will receive $1,947.56, after increases of $350 per month.
A single parent with one child will receive $1,270.58 if on income assistance and $1,694.08 if on disability assistance, plus up to $697 in federal and provincial child benefits.
The NDP previously hiked support payments by $100 in 2017 and $50 in 2019. The province said the 2021 increase will mean rates have climbed 53 per cent, and disability rates 38 per cent, since the party took office.
Finally, B.C.’s senior’s supplement, a provincial top-up to the federal Old Age Security benefit for low-income seniors, is also doubling, increasing by $50 per person per month.
This lifts the maximum rate for a single person from $49.30 to $99.30 per month, and benefits up to 20,000 more low-income seniors.