By Medicine Hat News Opinion on January 14, 2021.
As we continue to live under the conditions of a pandemic, it is important to continue discussing the sociopolitical matters that affect Albertans no matter what conditions we find ourselves in. And as we face increased deficit, and a provincial debt over $97 billion dollars, the pressure is on to survive on less income. No one knows this better than those who receive AISH, Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped.
So as the February release of Alberta’s 2021 budget approaches, it is a scary time for those who can barely survive budgetary shenanigans such as the recent cosmetic changes to how AISH is accounted (moving payment dates from the end of the month to the beginning in order to create the impression money was being saved by paying out only eleven months worth of assistance in the previous fiscal year). We should continue to look carefully at streamlining and managing such programs. But such scrutiny can never really provide the most important context: how it actually feels to be severely handicapped.
Recently, as Alberta’s number of AISH applications and recipients have risen by a very noticeable degree, discussion has occurred over whether anxiety and ADHD should be considered worthy of inclusion under the umbrella of AISH coverage. It is an absolutely fair and valuable discussion which I support wholeheartedly and can relate to, thanks to the debate that previously occurred around Bipolar disorder, from which I myself suffer. That is the key word: suffer. Even with medication and constant psychiatric consultation Bipolarity wreaks utter havoc on one’s life, and unpredictably often, makes it impossible to function. And that does not even include the side effects of the constant stress: digestive issues, insomnia, constant headaches, and so on (requiring the purchase of a lot of non-subsidized over-the-counter medications, which gets very expensive).
When the average person thinks of anxiety, they think of that semi-panicked feeling they might get if they forgot something important while driving to a business meeting. That doesn’t sound too bad, why should we support someone who can’t handle a little stress? The true sensation is actually more like how one might feel if they were bound and suffocating while slowly being lowered into a wood chipper: absolute terror. For example, once while in England to speak at a conference I suffered such a severe attack I lost the use of my hands due to a lack of oxygenated blood flow, and an ambulance had to be called. Work under those conditions? I can’t.
Even if one is suffering anxiety in a severe enough manner as to require AISH, the process of qualification is very rigorous, and it is not something someone can just “get.” And once you are retirement age it stops, and you have no other assistance, for how can you save anything when AISH is not indexed to inflation? To be sure, AISH is a godsend, yet it is also a life raft many seem to not care that much about keeping afloat. Please remember this when you watch our leaders attempt to reduce the deficit by an inconsequential amount by acting as if AISH is an easily available form of provincial grift.
Dr. Daniel Schnee is an anthropologist and internationally recognized composer