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Coalition urges Selinger to raise rental allowance

An anti-poverty coalition beseeched the Selinger government today to "have a heart" and raise the rental allowance for those on welfare.

The allowance — $285 for a single person — has not been raised in two decades.

A handful of members of a group called Make Poverty History Manitoba (MPHM) staged a protest in front of the Legislative Building during the noon hour today.

They stapled hearts, reading, "Have a heart, raise the rent allowance," into boards in front of the building. The coalition includes such groups as the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, Winnipeg Harvest and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"It has been 20 years since we’ve seen an increase," said Kirsten Bernas, a spokeswoman for MPHM.

She said the group is pushing the government to boost rates when it brings down its budget this spring.

The government has continually rejected the notion of increasing Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) rates. Instead, it has focused its efforts on education, training and employment opportunities to lift Manitobans out of poverty.

Bernas said while her coalition applauds these efforts, they don’t help everyone. Besides, people need a decent place to live while they’re going to school and preparing themselves for the workforce.

"There’s no way people are going to succeed on that education, training and employment path if they don’t have housing," she said. "It’s a prerequisite for success."

There are more than 60,000 people on social assistance in Manitoba, about a third of whom are children. Many recipients are single parents, and many have disabilities that make it difficult for them to work.

The coalition said government-built low-income housing is in short supply. And there are few incentives to the private sector to build such units.

Premier Greg Selinger arrived at the front of the building, along with an aide, as the demonstration was winding down today.

"I love the display; it’s very appropriate," he told demonstrators, referring to their Valentine’s Day theme.

He then ducked into the building without addressing the group’s concerns.

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