By JEREMY APPEL on February 1, 2020.
Sandra Williams is responsible for managing the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped payments her grandson, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, receives to pay for rent.
She was caught off guard by the government’s decision to move AISH payments to the first day of the month starting in March, or the last business day of the previous month if the first falls on a weekend or holiday, rather than four days prior to the first.
“Pension checks are always X number of days before the end of the month, because that’s how a person needs it – before everything is due. So if it’s worked that way all these years for pensioners, why all of a sudden would it be different for AISH,” asked Williams, herself a pensioner.
Pensions are under federal jurisdiction, while AISH is provincial, but the inconsistency remains.
The first payment will be the hardest, since it’s coming almost a week later than usual.
“I’ll admit I did vote Conservative, but I’m shocked by all these little changes that are coming out,” Williams said, referring as well to changes to senior benefits that mean her two grandchildren whom she’s the legal guardian of are no longer covered.
The government also cut AISH payments by de-indexing them from inflation in its October 2019 budget.
Medicine Hat College political analyst Jim Groom says he suspects changes to AISH are rooted in a perception that welfare recipients are fiscally irresponsible.
“It may come down to a control issue, where they think that people on AISH have three days to abuse the money, rather than make the payments,” Groom speculated. “I don’t see it as a huge benefit to the government financially and yet it does speak detrimentally to their compassion and empathy for people.
“I don’t think that’s going to hold them in good stead, so I’m a little confused about why they’re bothering to do it.”
Regardless of its intent, he said this move will make life more difficult for already-vulnerable people, who have “incremental expenses” that are always adding up, whether it’s housing or transportation.
Groom contrasted this hamfistedness with the government’s generosity in offering a $4.5 billion corporate tax cut when it came into office.
More local AISH issues
Linda Martin, a landlord for a building on Southview Drive with two tenants whose AISH cheques are mailed directly to her for rent, says the change in payment schedule is a needless complication.
Under the new system, mailed cheques and direct deposits go out on the same day, so Martin won’t receive those cheques until a few days after rent is due.
She intends on waiving any late fees, since it’s beyond her tenants’ control, but says the government is creating an unnecessary inconvenience for everyone involved.
“I’ve got to make two separate trips to the bank and two separate trips to the office,” said Martin. “It’s costing me time and money, because the government decided to change the time when they’re going to send out these cheques.”
She says she doesn’t believe changing the payment schedule will alter anybody’s behaviour.
“If they’re going to waste their money, they’re going to waste their money, or they’re going to pay their bills regardless if they get it two or three days before the first or if they get it on the first,” said Martin. “I don’t think it’s going to change how people use their money.”
Crystal Gebhardt is on AISH for her severe attention deficit disorder and depression, which she said helps her with groceries and rent.
“It’s impacted a lot of people, because with the previous scheduled date they had more leeway to get their cheques before the first,” she said.
Gebhardt uses direct deposit, so she had more flexibility to decide what to spend her AISH money on while ensuring her bills were paid on time in conjunction with her other sources of income.
The combination of delayed payments with de-indexing produces a noxious combination, she suggested.
“We’re going to find more people who are homeless,” said Gebhardt. “You’re barely making it by as it is.”
Barnes speaks out
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes says many of his constituents on AISH have expressed their concerns with the changes to him.
“I don’t understand the government’s logic for changing the date,” Barnes told the News, emphasizing the livelihoods of people on AISH are “crucial.”
With regards to de-indexing, he said it was done across the board.
“Taxpayers have lost their protection as inflation affects tax brackets, and that’s a sign of the government saying that those who pay and those who receive are going to have to work close together to ensure we bring back the Alberta advantage,” Barnes said, referring to “a strong economy with low taxes and the best social programs.”
Ministry of Community and Social Services spokesperson Diane Carter said the schedule change will have no bearing on the amount of money people on AISH receive.
“We acknowledge some clients may need to make adjustments to the timing of bill payments and we are providing clients with notice and assistance now, in advance, so they can prepare for the change in March,” she said in an emailed statement. “We are encouraging Albertans with questions or concerns to call their caseworker or Alberta Supports for assistance.”