Albertans receiving disability benefits will miss out on feds’ rent top up: AISH client

Click to play video: 'Canada Housing Benefit one-time top up for low-income renters starts Monday'
Canada Housing Benefit one-time top up for low-income renters starts Monday
WATCH (Dec. 11): In a bid to help tackle skyrocketing rents across the country, the government of Canada will be opening applications Monday for a one-time top-up as part of the Canada Housing Benefit (CHB) program. The initiative that would put $500 in the pockets of low-income renters — with families making a net income of $35,000 a year and individuals earning less than $20,000 eligible. – Dec 11, 2022

A 60-year-old woman who relies on provincial and federal disability benefits says she and other Albertans like her are ineligible for the federal government’s one-time rent top-up payment.

Kaeleigh Kaufman has had to rely on Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and CPP-D since June 2011, when she says she became chronically ill.

She receives $20,325 a year — monthly CPP-D payments federally topped up to a cap limit by AISH provincially.

But that means her 2021 net income surpasses the rent top-up criteria by $325 annually.

“Which amounts to $27 a month… That’s two jugs of milk, a loaf of bread and some sandwich meat,” Kaufman said.

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The government of Canada opened applications Monday for the one-time top-up as part of the Canada Housing Benefit (CHB) program — an initiative that would put $500 in the pockets of low-income renters as rent costs soar across the country.

To qualify, renting families must have a net income of less than $35,000 a year, or renting individuals must make less than $20,000, according to a government statement on the website.

Applicants must also spend at least 30 per cent of their adjusted net income on shelter in order to qualify for the $500 benefit.

Kaufman said since a rent increase in April, she’s been spending 51 per cent of her net income on rent. Her rent is scheduled to go up again in January, meaning she’ll be putting 60 per cent of her income towards rent, she said.

“In Alberta, no one pays 30 per cent on their rent. We’re looking at 50, 60, 70 per cent of income going to rent.”

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After reading about the planned eligibility requirements for the top up, Kaufman emailed the prime minister and several ministers weeks ago about the Alberta income issue. She also sent copies of her correspondence to Premier Danielle Smith and Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley.

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On one hand, it’s good that severely disabled Albertans are able to receive slightly more support annually (through AISH top up) than other Canadians, Kaufman says, but on the other hand, it means they can’t get the one-time federal payment.

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“I’m not saying it’s a case of overt discrimination; I’m saying it’s gross oversight,” she said. “I don’t think they did their homework.”

“They chose to do this at Christmas time. Do you know what a sucker punch feels like?

“If (people on AISH) knew about this one-time top up — $500! — and then they discovered they were $300 over? Now they know what a sucker punch feels like.”

Click to play video: 'AISH, other Alberta government benefit programs to be re-indexed starting in 2023'
AISH, other Alberta government benefit programs to be re-indexed starting in 2023

The office of the federal minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion and CMHC provided a joint statement to Global News.

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“We know that it is getting harder for many Canadians to afford rent or to find housing that they can afford. That is why the government of Canada is providing a new, direct federal one-time top-up to the CHB to nearly two million renters who are struggling with the cost of housing.

“As mentioned, this measure is a top-up to the already existing CHB, which includes the Canada-Alberta Housing Benefit. This federally-led, and jointly funded program is administered directly to Albertans in need of rental assistance, based on low incomes determined through criteria available on the government of Alberta’s website.”

The statement stressed the measures are not standalone programs and the federal government will keep adding support through the National Housing Strategy.

“These programs are helping support the most vulnerable communities, including persons with disabilities across Alberta and across Canada. Many of these housing initiatives through the NHS involve important and mandatory accessibility criteria, in order to ensure inclusive wrap-around supports are provided for those who continue to face serious barriers in this country.

“The government of Canada has also reintroduced the framework legislation to create the historic Canada Disability Benefit, an income supplement for working-age Canadians with disabilities.

“The government of Canada will continue to work with those expressing important concerns to ensure our programs can be best tailored to support the needs of Albertans and Canadians who need it most.”

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Kaufman expects many other vulnerable Albertans are in the same position.

“All severely and permanently disabled Albertans who rely solely on AISH should have the exact same net annual income as I do, which is $20,325.

“That means that all permanently and severely disabled individuals, citizens in Alberta were denied the $500 one-time rent top up.”

She said people on fixed incomes often have to choose between shelter and food or paying rent and buying medicine.

“That $500, if it were to come to me today, it would go to restore shortfalls and pay debts to pay basic necessities,” Kaufman said.

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“I am not the only vulnerable Canadian citizen who was looking forward to a $500 bonus during the Christmas season.

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“Nor am I the only vulnerable Canadian citizen who will suffer profound disappointment when they learn that a slight overage in their meagre disability/senior benefit disqualifies them from much-needed relief.”

Another woman on AISH who reached out to Global News said her application for the $500 benefit was also denied.

Kathy, who didn’t want her last name used, said her annual income on disability is $20,220, which makes her over the federal program’s cut off by $220. She called the CRA and was told that if she was over the limit at all — even by $1 — the application would be immediately denied.

She thinks there should be exceptions made, especially when people are paying the majority of their income on rent. In her case, $1,167 of the $1,600 she gets monthly goes towards rent.

Kaufman, who has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alberta, said the larger issue here is how Canada as a country and society values human life, human contribution and how it chooses to support the most vulnerable citizens.

“There is no way that a $1,700 disability allowance payable to permanently ill/disabled citizens can ever be enough to meet the basic necessities of life.”

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She described those basic needs as “a healthy diet; appropriate medicinal/psychological supports; safe, private, functional shelter; telephone, cable, internet, clothing, haircuts, personal/household supplies, and transportation.”

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