"Albertans Advocating for Change Together, a provincial network of people with developmental disabilities and their allies, wants to thank the Alberta government for their recent decision to re-index AISH and income supports to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This action recognizes the very important and unanimous decision of MLAs in 2018 to index these important measures to the rate of inflation. Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jeremy Nixon said, “This is not going to just deal with inflation today, but as we move forward, we’re going to make sure that these folks don’t slowly end up in a situation where things become unaffordable for them. We’re going to help them keep up.” Unfortunately, the amount does not consider what was lost to inflation in 2019 through 2021. The short-term addition of $100/month for the next 6 months, while helpful now, will return people on social assistance to the same situation when it ends.
AISH and Inflation. The increase of AISH from $1685/month set in January 2019 to $1787/month in January 2023 is an increase of 6.05% (or $102/month). Yet, inflation between 2019 and 2022 is estimated by various inflation calculators as 12.59% (Bank of Canada), 11.63% (www.in2013dollars.com), 12.79% (January 2019 – May 2022 in Edmonton at www.cupe.ca/cpi-calculator) and 13.93% (January 2019 – May 2022 in Calgary at www.cupe.ca/cpi-calculator), all based on CPI.
Even looking only at inflation from October 2021 – October 2022, CPI increased by 6.88%, according to the Bank of Canada inflation calculator. This means that the buying power of people relying on AISH will be significantly less than what it was in January 2019, or even in October 2021. It is clear that the increase will not help people with disabilities keep up, as Minister Nixon suggested, but merely put them less behind than they were.
While inflation the past year in Alberta has averaged 6.8%, many essential items for people with disabilities that are part of the CPI have become more expensive. For instance, the cost of gas and electricity increased 13.6% and food costs increased 10.3%. Anyone requiring a special diet to maintain health pays more than CPI uses in its market-basket measure. For instance, gluten-free bread at Walmart costs about $5, compared with regular bread at $1.67. Lactose-free milk at Walmart costs about $6 for 2-liters compared with $4.27 for regular milk.
In the past 3 year(s), use of the food banks in Alberta has increased 73%. And in the last year, it has increased 34%, indicating that greater food insecurity is a result of income not keeping up with inflation in Alberta. We also expect a diesel shortage soon, which will affect shipping of food and other goods to Alberta consumers and help maintain or increase costs.
Cost of housing is up an average of 6.7%, although the average cost of a 1-bedroom apartment in Calgary has gone from $1228 to $1514 between September 2021 and September 2022, an increase of 23%. Those people who have rent and utilities combined into one payment may or may not be protected from the higher rate of inflation of utilities. Those who live in subsidized/community housing pay no more than 30% of their income for basic housing but it does not include utilities.
The upcoming monthly AISH increase of $102 should result in a rent increase in community housing of $31, which leaves $71 more to spend on utilities, food, transportation, medications not covered by AISH and other necessities. The CPI does not include some common costs for people with disabilities, such as repairs to wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment, or replacements to glasses within a year if broken, lost or a prescription changes. Both AISH and Aids to Daily Living have limits on how much and how often (usually once a year) they will help with these expenses. It is hard to participate in community life without these essentials.
Transit costs in Calgary and Edmonton will stay the same as last year, thanks to support from the province. Transit prices in Lethbridge will remain the same but the City is changing all the payment methods, requiring credit cards for payments, which many individuals with disabilities do not have.
Smaller communities may not have public transit systems. Some have a disabled transit system with a sliding scale based on the distance traveled. For instance, Stettler has an Access/Handi-bus transit system with a monthly card for $60/month that allows 11 rides. Each ride used is marked by a hole punch in the card. However, a one-way ride from Erskine to Stettler is three hole punches (or $16.36 each direction), limiting transportation available to individuals in these communities.
The bottom line is that the increase in AISH is not enough for the government to address the affordability crisis being experienced by Albertans with disabilities and bring them up to the level of poverty they had in January 2019. Could this shortfall be addressed by making the affordability payments permanent for people on forms of social assistance?
Punitive Policy. Like other Albertans, citizens with disabilities recognize that the government of Alberta does not have an endless supply of money to address all of the needs of everyone. However, there are some policies in the AISH (and income support) program that feel particularly punishing and would cost the government little to change.
At present, people with disabilities who are able to work sometimes, but cannot regularly earn enough money to live on, are allowed to keep the first $1072 of their monthly wages without losing any of their AISH income. After that, 50% of any additional employment earnings are deducted from AISH until the AISH payment drops to $0.
At that point, AISH provides only medical and some personal benefits. Compared to most other provinces, this is a generous system allowing those who can work to better their financial position and rise out of poverty. Note that just under 17% of individuals on AISH reported any employment earnings during April – October 2022.
The AISH handbook states that “you and your spouse or partner must apply for all other income you may be eligible for, such as Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPP-D), employment insurance (EI) or Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) benefits” (emphasis ours). If the individual is approved for these benefits, any money the individual gets from these sources will be deducted dollar-for-dollar from their AISH benefit amount leaving them with the same amount of income (or less) than if they had not gotten those benefits. We have been told by government sources that the reason that these income sources are non-exempt (i.e., clawed back from AISH dollar-for-dollar) is because they are taxable.
The basic monthly payment amount for CPP-D is $524.64 with additional amounts paid based on the individual’s CPP contribution while employed. (The average payment is $1070.40 with a maximum payment of $1464.83.) If a person on AISH and CPP-D received the basic amount of $524.64, their AISH amount would be reduced by $524.64 leaving them with a total income of $1787 (i.e., $2311.64 - $524.64) starting in January 2023. Yet, when tax time came around, they would have to pay taxes on the $524.64, potentially leaving them with less than the $1787 each month that they would have had if they had not applied for CPP-D. It is not surprising that CPP-D income is only reported by 22% of those using AISH.
The situation with EI feels even less fair. Individuals on AISH who are able to earn some employment income develop budgets based on the combination of AISH and employment income. If they lose their job, they will have a hole in their budget and risk not having enough money for their home, utilities and other essentials. Money from EI will only partially fill that hole temporarily, but if clawed back dollar-for-dollar from AISH leaves them with only the AISH amount, and not even that if they must also pay tax on the EI earnings. We believe that EI should be treated the same as employment earnings, with the first $1072 exempt and 50% clawback of any amount above that. We base our position on the fact that money received as EI was paid into EI by the individuals and employer while they were employed out of their employment earnings. It is their money from employment, even though they only get it after they leave the job.
There is one final consideration that makes this policy feel unfair, and that is the amount of effort required to apply for CPP-D and EI. People avoid applying for EI and CPP-D because of a combination of the impact of the AISH clawbacks and the wasted energy. Completing the paperwork requirements of these programs takes a lot of time.
For CPP-D, the individual must complete the 26-page application form (including instructions that are not in plain language) and have a doctor complete a 9-page medical form (with an additional 5 pages of instructions). Individuals must supply the government with all of the documentation, only to lose any benefit of CPP-D if they get it.
To apply for EI requires completion of a multi-page online document, that includes having additional documents and a MyCRA identity. If the individual does not have an up-to-date device and must use public computers to complete the process, this situation becomes very difficult and time-consuming and puts their personal information at risk.
Forms and instructions require a level of skill, access and human support that many people with disabilities may not have. The stress involved in completing these forms increases the stress that the individual is already experiencing due to loss of a job, in the case of EI, and does not consider the impact of the disability that made them successful candidates for AISH in the first place.
Inflation has helped create an affordability crisis for many Albertans in general. Any social assistance clawback that leaves people in poverty feels unethical. Premier Danielle Smith has said, “As a province, we can't solve this inflation crisis on our own. But due to our strong fiscal position and balanced budget, we can offer substantial relief so Albertans and their families are better able to manage through this storm.”
Treating EI and CPP-D the same as employment income could be an additional measure that costs Alberta little or nothing (given the savings in AISH worker time), but leaves people with more money in the bank.
We believe that if you want people not to be in poverty, let them keep the money they should be entitled to. Would you be willing to work with us to develop a set of rules that allows more people with disabilities to be lifted out of poverty?
Sincerely,Members of Albertans Advocating for Change Together"
A final thing to think about is that most people on AISH contribute to our communities in a variety of ways. They create art for us to enjoy or be inspired by. They volunteer to help individuals and organizations when they have the time and energy. They provide emotional, and sometimes practical, support to friends and family so that they do not have to seek help from stretched community resources. They share their stories with the community and government to help create better understanding and greater compassion for diversity. They work with government and community organizations on problems to ensure that solutions are inclusive and the best possible for all Albertans.
- How much does the program give people in terms of money or payment of expenses?
- How much can a person earn without it being clawed back by the program?
- What is the basic cost of living (e.g., poverty line) in that part of Canada?
It is very hard to compare the programs in all 10 provinces and 3 territories of Canada. Their websites are not always clear and some places pay for things like people's utilities and rent directly instead of giving the amount to the person to pay for those things themselves. The Maytree Foundation Welfare in Canada report is a good source of information and we used it when we could not find better information. Thanks so much to Margaret Ireland who did the initial work finding and interpreting information on the various provincial and territorial programs. The table below shares our answers to the three questions above:
Click here for what you can do to prepare to have a good meeting with government.
There are still other problems with the AISH system that need to be fixed. Sometimes the rules are hard to understand or information is mis-leading. If you have problems with AISH, please contact the Disability Advocate office and ask for help. Call 1-800-272-8841 for free or email email@example.com
April 6, 2017
Letter from David Morhart, Deputy Minister, Community and Social Services
--Message from AACT
We wish that everybody who has problems with AISH did not have them. Thank you to those who write in to tell us about the problems they have had with AISH. We do not have staff or other resources to help individuals advocate with AISH staff. The Voices of Albertans with Disabilities group has people who can help you with AISH forms. All we can do is post your comments with your experience on our website. We encourage you to share your stories with the Ministry while they are looking at how to change AISH to make it better.
We find out things when we talk to each other about AISH. Here is what we found out at our July 2012 meeting. Click on the box in the bottom right corner to make the video bigger.
AISH covers the same medications as Blue Cross. Pharmacists have a list of those medications. If your medication is not on that list, ask your doctor to write a letter for you to take to AISH to see if they will cover the costs of that medication. You will still have to pay the pharmacy dispensing fee if they charge one.
AISH Online Policy Manual
Click here to find out about what services and supports you can access from AISH.
All over Alberta, self-advocacy groups work to raise AISH. We got a raise. Now we need the government to say that AISH will go up whenever the cost of living goes up.
Click on the images below to find out more.