‘Not enough’: Experts say maximum AISH benefit still puts recipients below poverty line

Alberta’s income support program for people with a disability is below the poverty line and not providing Albertans with a living wage, experts said.

Community, Seniors and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon. Photo by Greg Southam/Postmedia

Cindy Tran, Edmonton Journal Jan 21, 2024

Lindsay Tedds, an associate professor in the department of economics at the University of Calgary, said while the poverty line in Alberta has increased dramatically, the cost of living is also increasing and income needs to match inflation.

“You need a lot of money to live in poverty. I don’t think people really understand how much money it now takes,” said Tedds.

Tedds has done extensive research on income assistance programs across Canada, including temporary assistance programs and disability programs. She said many people do not understand that those living in poverty are the most “disabled of the disabled” and cannot work.

Here is a breakdown of issues those with disabilities face when trying to get on to AISH, the poverty line and the benefit allowance over the years.

What is the maximum allowance and how does it compare to the poverty line?

Statistics Canada’s latest report on the Market Basket Measure, which is based on a specific basket of goods and services representing a “modest” basic standard of living annually for a family of four, puts Edmonton at $55,225 — which comes to $27,885.50 for a single-family household.

The current maximum living allowance for those on the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program is $1,863 monthly, which comes to $22,356 annually — $5,529.50 below the poverty line in Edmonton.

In Calgary the basic standard of living for a family of four is slightly above Edmonton at $55,771.

“The living allowance may be reduced if a client and their cohabiting partner receive non-exempt income, or if a client resides in a Government of Alberta group home. Clients who reside in government-owned and operated group homes receive the maximum monthly living allowance, minus the per diem room and board rate,” said the website.

While Alberta’s income support for those with disabilities is the highest in Canada, Tedds said it’s clear that the maximum living allowance is “not enough” and even then not everyone will get the highest allowance.

“People are not living their best life.”

How challenging is it to get on to the program?

People who are living on AISH are highly stigmatized, said Tedds. It also doesn’t help that the program is difficult to get on to.

“Just because it’s the highest amount, it’s very hard to get on to. We’re talking about the most disabled of the disabled and that you gotta jump through hoops, it’s very stigmatizing to get on to,” said Tedds.

In a recent article, Postmedia spoke to a nurse practitioner who said AISH rules are creating barriers for patients. She said it is difficult for some of her patients to access doctors to complete medical forms for provincial funding.

Only a registered physician can sign off on a key medical report in the application process for AISH.

Linda Wonitoway-Raw works in the health centre on Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, about 85 km northwest of Edmonton, has been a practising nurse practitioner for 15 years and estimated she’s only seen about 10 patients who should qualify, but the rule is a big barrier for those few who need the vital support.

Tedds said a lack of compassion when it comes to those with disabilities is “horrifying” and she said in order to improve the system, a fundamental mindset change is necessary to first work to de-stigmatize how people view disability to create a more compassionate understanding of what it means to be severely disabled.

“It’s horrifying what they say about people on (disability). There’s fundamentally a mindset that the people on these programs are committing fraud, they’re lazy, that they just wanna sit around and do nothing and collect a cheque. I don’t know of anybody who is sitting around and living a good life at $700 a month, these people have lived through significant amounts of trauma,” said Tedds.

How has AISH allowance changed over the decades?

Heather Barlow, press secretary to the minister of seniors, community and social services, said in a statement to Postmedia that the province indexes the program annually to “keep up pace with inflation” and continue to make improvements to the program.

“On Jan. 1, benefit rates for these financial assistance programs were increased by 4.25 per cent. Emergency benefits are also available 24-hours-a-day for those eligible to help with basic needs like shelter, food, clothing and transportation,” said Barlow.

The program has seen significant increases over the past two decades, however, the allowance in 2005 was $950. In nearly 20 years, the program’s maximum allowance has not doubled with the current amount sitting at $1,863 — nowhere near a livable amount.

What is AISH and how did it start?

According to data from the provincial government, the total AISH caseload for October 2023 was 75,554 a 4.5 per cent increase from October 2022, which was 69,981.

A review of the program in September 2004 was called for by Clint Dunford, former minister of Alberta Human Resources and Employment, after AISH clients said the benefit was too low and the program was not meeting their needs. The goal of the review was to identify ways to revamp the AISH program to match the needs of recipients “while ensuring the program remains available to those who need it.”

– With files from Lisa Johnson

Contact Cindy Tran  ctran@postmedia.com, twitter.com/kccindytran

Source Edmonton Journal


Also see
Alberta government reverts to previous AISH payment schedule CBC
‘I can’t sign the medical’: Alberta nurse practitioner says AISH rules present barrier for patients Edmonton Journal

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