Cuts to AISH under consideration

(Article on Government about face on this issue follows below)

Effect on people with disabilities is ‘not going to be minor’: source


Edmonton Journal September 11, 2020SAMMY HUDES

The UCP government is considering cuts to the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program in 2021 as a result of an ongoing review, a move recipients say would be “absolutely inhumane” and make it more difficult to meet the rising cost of living.

The decision could mean reductions to monthly payments received by nearly 70,000 Albertans living with disabilities, who rely on the program for income to afford basic needs.

AISH is one of several programs currently under review by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

A senior source within the department of community and social services confirmed to Postmedia “there is a push to potentially make some cuts” to AISH. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it’s “hard to say” how extensive those potential cuts could be. But there is an indication they would be significant.

“They’re not going to be that minor in nature,” the source said. “They will be more than that.” The government’s discussions are ongoing, with reductions likely to take effect next year.

Such a move would be “thoroughly unfair,” according to Julie Heffel, who lives with cerebral palsy and has received AISH payments for 18 years. She said cuts would leave recipients with tough choices between basic everyday needs.

“As it is, AISH is a program by which you cannot afford to live in housing that isn’t subsidized,” said Heffel, 36.

“You can’t afford to have things like a car because it just doesn’t balance out.”

When it comes to widespread cost reductions, the UCP views AISH as a possible area “for making a little bit of a dent,” according to the source.

In last month’s first-quarter fiscal update, Finance Minister Travis Toews hinted further cuts to provincial services could be in store, in line with the UCP government’s first two budgets, after revealing that Alberta’s deficit is on track to hit $24.2 billion.

“We need to deliver the most cost-effective government services possible,” said Toews, who cited crashing oil prices and the economic fallout linked to the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons for economic misfortune in the province.

“Alberta can no longer afford to be an outlier in terms of the cost of delivering services to Albertans.”

In late 2019, the government announced the de-indexation of AISH payments from inflation, meaning benefits would no longer increase with the rising cost of living.

Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said at the time the move would save the province more than $300 million by 2023, which would be necessary to keep the program sustainable.

“We’re not cutting anything, the budget has actually increased,”

Sawhney said during a committee meeting last November.

The government allocated $1.29 billion for AISH in its 2020 budget, tabled in February.

AISH clients receive $1,685 per month in basic benefits. That represents $390 per month more than Quebec, the province with the next-highest payments for similar programs, according to the 2020 budget.

“This is the highest budget for AISH Alberta has ever had and represents a third of the ministry’s budget,” Ryan Hastman, a senior adviser to Sawhney, said in an emailed statement.

AISH caseloads increased by 17 per cent from 2015 to 2019, while costs went up by 20 per cent over that time, according to 2020 budget figures. As of July 2020, there were 69,785 recipients of the program.

“As the minister has said previously, she is looking at all ministry programs to ensure they can continue to serve Albertans now and in the future,” Hastman said.

“While no decisions have been made, we are taking a close look at AISH and all of our programs so we can ensure they are delivered sustainably and supports continue to be available for those who need them.”

The community and social services source said no AISH recipient would lose the entirety of their benefits following the government’s review. Eligible recipients who qualify for the program would continue receiving a monthly payment, albeit at a possible lower rate.


‘There will be no cuts’: Alberta government defends review of AISH


By Allison Bench Global News

Posted September 12, 2020 2:45 pm

Updated September 16, 2020 8:17 am

Global News at 11 Edmonton: AISH recipient feels anxious about program review

close video

Some Albertans who rely on AISH benefits say they’re feeling anxious after Premier Jason Kenney said it’s time for the province to review who qualifies for the program. Sarah Komadina reports.

Alberta’s Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney said Saturday there will be no cuts made to the province’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program.

“Let me provide you with some reassurance,” said Sawhney in a Facebook post. “First, please know that no changes have been made to the AISH program. Second, the focus of my review has been on service delivery, and finding ways to streamline operations. I will continue with that review. Third, I know you don’t feel like it at the moment, but I ask that you trust me. I am very protective of all CSS clients and vulnerable Albertans. I’m doing my very best for all of you.

Sawhney’s comments come after an article from Postmedia published Friday said the government was looking at making cuts to the income program.

While Sawhney confirmed her ministry was reviewing the service in a separate post on social media Friday, she said the review is part of an ongoing process for multiple services.

“We review every aspect of our ministry because we need to ensure that supports continue to be available to those who need them the most, now and into the future.”

According to the government, the program supports nearly 70,000 Albertans with permanent medical issues that prevent them from working with a basic benefit of $1,685 per month.

The UCP did make some changes to AISH for 2020 — when it said it would not be adjusting the AISH benefit amount as costs of living in the province increase, a policy that was brought in by the NDP in 2018.

Sawhney defended the amount the government was putting towards AISH Friday.

“AISH funding actually went up by 6.2 per cent compared to the previous year forecast, and at $1.29 billion we currently have the highest budget for AISH in Alberta’s history,” she said.

According to the government, the program supports nearly 70,000 Albertans with permanent medical issues that prevent them from working with a basic benefit of $1,685 per month.

“It is almost impossible to put into words the degree of fear and anxiety this government is adding to children and adults with disabilities and their families over and above having to struggle with the overwhelming impact of COVID-19,” Barb MacIntyre, the president of Inclusion Alberta, said Friday.