Critics worry too many Albertans ineligible for $600 inflation relief

“When you compare that to competitive provinces, that is significant relief that we are providing.”

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As details of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s $2.4-billion inflation relief package trickle out, the province’s affordability minister says it was designed to target those who need it most, despite critics saying it leaves too many ineligible.

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Smith announced her government’s plan to combat the impacts of inflation Tuesday, including $600 in payouts over six months for each senior and child under the age of 18 in households with a yearly income less than $180,000. Those same cash payments will be given to those receiving Alberta Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) payments.

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On Wednesday, Affordability and Utilities Minister Matt Jones took part in a government announcement detailing $20 million for food banks over two years as part of the promised Inflation Relief Act.

In response to questions from reporters about why many Albertans, including those who are single making minimum wage, won’t be eligible for the six $100 payments, Jones said the need is higher for families with kids, seniors and vulnerable Albertans.

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He also said the “vast majority” of Albertans will be eligible for some sort of help through government supports, including electricity rebates — expanded for four months, or an extra $200 — and an extended gas tax holiday.

“When you compare that to competitive provinces, that is significant relief that we are providing,” said Jones, adding that the government hopes to start sending the monthly checks beginning in January.

‘Back of the napkin’ plan: Notley

Responding to Smith’s announcement on Wednesday, Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley called it a poorly thought out, inefficient plan that will leave behind some two million Albertans.

“It speaks to me of a plan that was very quickly rolled out, almost on the back of a napkin, by a pretty green premier,” said Notley.

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Notley said the promise to re-index benefits won’t make up for the $3,000 vulnerable Albertans would have had if the UCP had not de-indexed AISH in 2019.

“It’s a pre-election gift card that is missing very significant families of Albertans who need support,” said Notley of the package, pointing to those who don’t have children, who are single, who aren’t on income support, who don’t drive, or who are renters not eligible for the province’s electricity rebate.

However, Notley declined on Wednesday to estimate exactly how much taxpayer cash an NDP government would have offered, only saying it would have dedicated more money to low-income Albertans.

The Condo Owners Forum Society of Alberta also called on Smith Wednesday to open up the regulations so that millions of thousands of condo owners could be eligible for rebate programs.

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Duane Bratt, political scientist at Mount Royal University, called the Tuesday announcement a political win, but said Smith may have muddled her message by delving into other issues like the renamed Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.

In a Wednesday interview with Postmedia, he said seniors on a fixed income and those on social supports are suffering more due to inflation, but it’s fair to note that seniors tend to vote more, and Smith is also looking to court the political support of suburban mom.

“Is this going to divide Albertans between those who are getting checks or who aren’t getting checks, or are people going (to say), ‘There is a blunt instrument and I’m helped by the utilities and the gas tax and AISH is supported and the most vulnerable people are being supported? Or are they going to say ‘I didn’t get my share?’” asked Bratt.

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On Tuesday, Smith also signaled there will be support for low-income transit users.

Andrea Farmer, Jones’ press secretary, told Postmedia Wednesday the ministry isn’t able to release an item-by-item breakdown of the $2.4 billion in spending while details are being finalized and the legislation has yet not been tabled or passed, but updates are forthcoming.

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe told Postmedia Wednesday the $600 payout is roughly equivalent to the increased expenditures that a typical family with two to three kids earning less than $120,000 will be experiencing because of high inflation.

But, he added, “you’ve got families who are going to be earning $175,000 who are getting support and then families earning $30,000 that are not, so that’s, I think, an unfortunate decision.”

With files from Josh Aldrich

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