By MEDICINE HAT NEWS on July 6, 2023.
Hatters who qualify as low-income earners could receive $200 per month in credits on their utility bills under an expanded utility relief program from council, but to date, only about 400 out of 30,000 households are signed on.
On Tuesday, council voted in favour of using $500,000 in its “Fair Entry” program, money that would increase the monthly subsidy while councillors vowed to study wider relief options for 2024.
But that comes after administrators said they believed as many as 3,000 Hatters would take part in budget estimates.
The Fair Entry program was created six years ago to subsidize the cost of some city services for those living below the poverty line as determined by Statistics Canada. Initially it only discounted by half the cost of admission to city cultural and recreation facilities, but earlier this year a 75 per cent discount on bus passes was added.
In late 2022, council also approved a utility program that provided $50 credits on bills in six of the highest-use months (January to March and July to September) for a total of $300.
Now, that utility credit will rise to $200 per month from August to year end.
To qualify, a person must have a Medicine Hat address and an annual income below the “low-income cut off” as determined by the federal government in the 2022 tax year.
Current LICO levels are a before-tax income of $25,146 for a single, $31,304 for a couple and $46,726 for a family of four.
City administrators said in late 2022 they estimated as many as 6,000 Hatters could be eligible based on data from Statistics Canada, including about 3,000 Hatters who receive Alberta Income for Severely Handicapped (AISH) payments.
Their budget assumptions predicted that at least half of eligible Hatters would sign on.