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Lethbridge social assistance programs bracing for higher demand as inflation rises

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WATCH ABOVE: As inflation rates rise, southern Alberta organizations are seeing more people seeking out social supports. One local economist says Lethbridge has a large population that is financially ill-suited to handle the rising costs. Erik Bay has more on how inflation is impacting the local community – Jun 16, 2022

In its latest numbers, Statistics Canada reported the inflation rate for April rose 6.8 per cent compared to a year ago.

That’s the highest increase in more than three decades.

One Alberta economist says a large number of people in Lethbridge could struggle to adapt to high costs.

“A good chunk of the employment population here in Lethbridge are employed in retail, health care and social assistance,” said Lars Hallstrom, director of the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy at the University of Lethbridge.

“Often those are not full-time positions, they may tend to be a bit lower in terms of salaries and wages.”

Read more: Freeland touts affordability programs, but no new spending, to combat inflation

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As inflation rises, local groups are seeing more people seeking assistance.

After increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Way of Lethbridge and South Western Alberta is fielding further calls for support.

“We know that as there’s pressure and other expenses for community members, that’s going to take away from a lot of necessities that they don’t necessarily have access to,” executive director Janelle Marietta said.

“We’re bracing for that conversation going forward, and we know that the needs continue to increase.”

The United Way tracks data from local calls to 211, a database for community and social services.

According to Marietta, most calls involve temporary financial assistance and emergency food access.

Read more: High gas prices likely to continue into 2023, research firm says

Hallstrom believes if inflation continues to rise, households will need to make some tough choices.

“We may see some impacts down the line in terms of public and population health,” Hallstrom said. “We see food prices rise, people start to make really hard choices. Things like fresh fruit become more expensive, things with really high nutritional value become more expensive.

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And the United Way is preparing for increased demand.

“(It’s) particularly challenging for community resources and for programs moving forward,” Marietta said. “Big increases in uptake in terms of need, so we’re asking the community to continue to help each other.”

Statistics Canada is expected to release May’s inflation report sometime next week.

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