Details on Alberta’s affordability payments expected ‘soon’

Click to play video: 'Who qualifies for Alberta’s affordability payments and when will they appear?'
Who qualifies for Alberta’s affordability payments and when will they appear?
Watch: Many are hopeful the new year will also bring some new financial relief against rising costs. Alberta's $2.8-billion affordability package will mean $600 by summer for hundreds of thousands of Albertans. But as Sarah Offin reports, there are still questions about who qualifies and exactly when the payments will appear. – Jan 2, 2023

Grocery prices have shocked many, but it took a trip away for Lenka Logue to really open her eyes.

“I was outside Canada for two weeks. When I was back I was in shock,” Logue told Global News.

A recipient of the provincial Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program, the jump in grocery bills were hard to swallow for her.

“Everything is going up and we don’t know how we will live now. It’s terrible,” Logue said.

Support is supposed to be on the way, but Albertans looking to get financial relief promised by the province for the new year will have to wait before they can apply.

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Among the $2.8 billion in measures announced in late November 2022 were “affordability payments,” $100 per month for six months going to seniors, families with children under 18, and Albertans on support programs like AISH, income support and the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) program.

Household incomes for the families and seniors have to be under $180,000 to qualify for the $600 total per child or senior.

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s affordability measures take effect in 2023'
Alberta’s affordability measures take effect in 2023

University of Calgary economics professor Trevor Tombe said the payments are closely aligned to the impacts families are feeling during these inflationary times.

“If you’re a family with about two kids and you’re earning no more than around $120,000 per year, then I estimate these cash transfers will basically fully offset the expenditure pressures that your family is facing from higher prices due to inflation,” he told Global News.

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Tombe said the increased costs of food and fuel — items that are seeing the greatest inflationary pressures — are what’s really driving up budgets for families with children. He added seniors aren’t typically seeing spending increases greater than individuals without children.

And while people already registered with AISH, PDD, income support and the Alberta Seniors Benefit will get the extra c-note automatically, others who are eligible will have to wait until the application process opens.

“Details on how to apply for the affordability payments will be announced in the new year,” the province’s affordability website says. When they will be paid out is also yet to be announced.

But it looks like the province is building its own application portal, similar to Alberta’s assistance programs rolled out early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click to play video: 'Food prices set to rise another 5-7% in 2023: Report'
Food prices set to rise another 5-7% in 2023: Report

Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West and chair of the provincial committee on public accounts urged the finance minister to use an already-existing federal infrastructure to help get the affordability payments out in a faster, more secure and more accountable way.

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“I strongly encourage you to use established systems through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to ensure timely and accurate payments to Albertans. Doing this would allow Albertans to forgo applying for the $100 payments,” Phillips wrote to Travis Toews on Dec. 21.

“Given what we learned at the committee, developing a new system within the Government of Alberta to deliver these new affordability payments represents an unacceptable risk of delays on the payments promised to Albertans facing an affordability crisis not seen in 40 years.

“Building a brand-new (Government of Alberta) system to deliver payments in January is a risky proposition when there is a custom-built vehicle in CRA to deliver payments promptly, accurately and at virtually no cost.”

In her letter to Toews, Phillips outlined the auditor general’s findings of “serious problems” in the delivery and verification of emergency supports like the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grants (SMERG) and the Emergency Isolation Support Program.

The $650-million SMERG program was an honour-based program designed to be verified in the future. Just more than one per cent of the 101,762 recipients were assessed and 52 per cent of those were paid in error.

The similarly-designed Emergency Isolation Support Program tried to only verify 150 people, receiving 41 responses with largely-incomplete information.

Click to play video: 'Calgary shoppers prepared to cut back as grocery prices set to continue climb'
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On Monday, Alberta NDP deputy leader Sarah Hoffman issued a statement demanding information on when the affordability payments will go to eligible individuals and families.

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“The Premier made a commitment to help Alberta families on Nov. 22 — that was more than 40 days ago,” Hoffman said. “It is unacceptable that there are still more questions than answers when it comes to these critical inflation payments.

“It’s been crickets from the UCP over the Christmas holidays,” Hoffman continued. “The price of gas is skyrocketing, utility rates are expected to hit record highs and Albertans are bracing for January credit card bills. They deserve answers.”

In a statement to Global News, Andrea Farmer, the press secretary for Minister of Affordability and Utilities Matt Jones, said the payments “will help offset inflationary pressures.”

“The first monthly affordability payments will start later this month and we look forward to announcing more details very soon,” she said.

Farmer said the province will continue exploring other ideas to “keep Alberta affordable.” Ideas like the electricity rebates, fuel tax relief, reindexing income taxes and AISH to inflation and the yet-to-be-triggered natural gas price protection.

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The U of C economics professor said despite a rise in inflation not seen since the 1950s, he doesn’t expect to see additional affordability measures from governments if inflation starts to ease this year.

“With the potential exception of Alberta because we have a budget coming in February, a pretty competitive election just a couple of months after that and large resource revenues giving a province a lot of room to maneuver.”

Logue said she doubts the promised $100 per month will help her and her family much.

“Everybody’s struggling,” Logue said.

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