B.C. BUDGET: Income assistance raise still leaves many below poverty line

$50 per month increase included in funding for poverty and homelessness reduction

The province’s much anticipated poverty reduction budget was presented as a multi-ministry effort at the BC 2019 budget presentation on Tuesday.

Since 2017, the province has increased assistance amounts by $100 a month – or $1,800 a year, an amount poverty reduction analysts say is lacking – based on an approximate $40,000 annual income poverty line for a family of four.

The 2019 budget promises to raise income assistance by an additional $50/month – an amount that caps monthly income assistance for a single person in B.C. at $760 – totalling $9,120 a year.

That’s still far too low, says Viveca Ellis, leadership development coordinator for the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.

“The $50 increase is really a drop in the ocean in terms of combating deep poverty,” Ellis said. “We feel we have a large surplus at this time, we know that we can afford to raise income assistance much higher. I’m disappointed to see such a low increase at this time, especially considering our poverty reduction plan will be out shortly.”

The 2019 budget also includes a $15-million, three-year investment towards a new “homelessness action plan” which includes continuing efforts to improve housing options for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness – including a further 200 modular housing units on top of the 2,000 the government has built since 2017.

The province says the plan will also include a province-wide homelessness count in 2020 and the establishment of a provincial homelessness coordination unit.

Another $10 million is allocated for a “provincial rent bank” – a fund providing loans for vulnerable families trying to avoid eviction.

“Through this measure, families will be provided protection from falling into homeless and deep poverty,” states B.C.’s three-year fiscal plan.

RELATED: Poverty coalition has high hopes for B.C. poverty reduction strategy

But the government’s approach to improving affordability comes through multi-faceted efforts – one of which is the complete elimination of provincial interest on student loans.

In 2017, interest was reduced to prime rate amounts, but the average B.C. student was still graduating with $28,000 in federal and provincial student debt.

But the new budget states that as of Tuesday, student loans will stop accumulating provincial interest, saving the average student $2,300 over a ten-year repayment period.

“We know student debt really delays students from making major life choices like buying a home or starting a family…so this will help,” said Aran Armutlu, chairperson for the BC Federation of Students. “Students right now, when they come from low or middle income families, are forced to borrow [money] in order to access education.”

“There are other things that can make life more affordable for students like the introduction of an upfront needs-based grant program…and funding for our institutions coupled with the freezing of tuition fees. Those are things that would really increase access to education.”

Additional affordability efforts include more funding for extended family caregivers too – bringing supportive payments in line with that of foster parents – who will see a $179.09/month increase starting in April.

While no adjustments are being made to child care investments, with the government continuing to tout it’s 2018 investments in the affordable child care benefit and child care reduction fee initiative – a new BC Child Opportunity Benefit is intended to make raising children more affordable for British Columbians.

The benefit will provide families with children under 18 with up to $1,600 a year for the first child, $2,600 per year for families with two children and up to $3,400 per year for families with three.

A full poverty reduction strategy is expected to be presented in the next two weeks.

RELATED: B.C. Budget: New benefit increases family tax credits up to 96 per cent

RELATED: B.C. BUDGET: Indigenous communities promised billions from gambling



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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