“It’s about time.”
That was Canadian Mental Health Association regional director Glen Kruck’s reaction to the provincial government’s announcement that people on social assistance will get a hike for monthly shelter costs.
The Selinger government introduced a pair of programs yesterday to help employment and income assistance (EIA) participants find jobs and pay rent.
Jobs and Economy Minister Theresa Oswald announced details on the province’s Rent Assist program, a new financial benefit available to both social assistance recipients and other low-income earners, which will replace the existing EIA shelter allowance and RentAid programs.
Individuals on EIA living in private rental accommodations will receive increases of between $50 and $70 per month for shelter costs. Single individuals, for example, will now receive $435 dollars per month, compared to the previous $365 per month.
Oswald also reaffirmed the government’s pledge to increase those rates over the next four years to 75 per cent of median market rent for EIA participants — a budget promise from earlier this year.
Kruck was clearly happy to hear of the increase, but said it’s not enough — at least not yet.
“It’s a significant step,” he said, “and after their four-year plan, they will have made a very significant impact.”
But he also questioned the government’s use of the provincial median market rent as a benchmark and said he believes the assistance funding should be based on the local cost of living where the participants live.
“Every citizen should at least have the ability to survive for food, clothing and shelter.”
Progressive Conservative family services critic Ian Wishart said the opposition was disappointed the program would be phased in and was critical it took so long to put in place.
“The fact that it’s being phased in, the (median market rent) will move in that period of time, so by the time we get there, it may change,” he said.
“We support the need to increase the EIA housing allowance.”
Through the other program announced yesterday, Manitoba Works! Co-operative Work Experience Program, community-based organizations will place more than 250 EIA participants in on-the-job training programs across the province over the coming months, the government says.
The program is being piloted in Winnipeg and northern Manitoba, but not Brandon or Westman.
Oswald said Manitoba Works! is part of the government’s plan to increase the province’s labour force by 75,000 workers by 2020.
“We know that just raising welfare rates can create poverty traps, where those trying to make the transition from welfare to work may be worse off working than on welfare,” Oswald said in a press release.
“That is why the Rent Assist program increases benefits for both social assistance recipients and low-income workers.”
The government says the Rent Assist program is “portable” and will follow people into jobs in order to make a smoother transition into employment.
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