street talk column april, 2006 income support – increase to aish by housework

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									Street Talk column April, 2006 Income Support – Increase to AISH Writer: Ramona Johnston 798 words
AISH Benefits Increase, But Is It Enough? What would you do with an extra $1,000 every month? Take a trip? Go out for nice dinners? Pay off some debt? What if $1,000 a month was all you had? As the cost of living continues to rise in Calgary, it has become increasingly difficult for more and more people living on income support programs to keep afloat – and having had to tread water for so long already, countless are beginning to sink. Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) provides financial and health benefits for adult Albertans with permanent disabilities that severely impair their ability to earn a living. On April 1, 2006, the monthly living allowance for recipients of the AISH program increased by $50 to a maximum of $1,000. For many, the extra money is welcomed, but still falls far too short. Michelle Kristinson, Manager of Government & Community Relations at the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, Calgary Chapter, sees first-hand how critical adequate income support for individuals with disabilities is. “For our clients, the current amount is still insufficient if you look at the cost of living and the cost of disability,” says Kristinson. “The increase of $100 last April and a further $50 this April is beneficial but most are still struggling to pay their bills.” In April 2005, benefits were increased from $850 to $950, the first increase since 1999. In the past ten years, while the cost of living has increased by 25 percent, base benefits have only climbed by five percent. “Rent, utilities, phone and transportation costs consume most, if not all of the $950 a month,” continues Kristinson. “An additional $50 will be helpful to most but it will not drastically change the purchasing power or financial struggles of AISH recipients.” For some, the increase may mean they can pay for transportation, for others, they can purchase a few groceries rather than rely on the Food Bank. Additional changes to AISH benefits include an increase to employment income exemptions. Recipients who are able to work can earn up to $400 per month, and for every dollar earned over $400, they can keep 50 cents. Previously, people could only keep 25 cents for every dollar earned over $200 a month. “An important reform, the increase to income exemption allows individuals who are employed to keep a larger portion of the money they have earned,” says Kristinson. “This provides an incentive for individuals, who otherwise felt the effort was not worth the results, to try and return to the labour market, even for just a few hundred extra dollars a month.”

Lindsay, an AISH recipient since 1999, agrees increased exemptions are a stride forward, but still thinks there is room for improvement. “I think the recent changes for employment and training supports is a great incentive and an increase of $50 a month will mean more money to eat better and stay healthy,” says Lindsay. “But I think it’s not near enough to cover the cost of living in Calgary.” “If you make $1,000 a month working full-time, that works out to an hourly wage of $6.25, still less than the minimum wage of $7 an hour,” continues Lindsay. “A physical or mental disability can hit anyone in their life – would you be prepared to live on $6.25 an hour?” “This affects me emotionally because it shows how little respect we have for people who are seen to be not fully contributing to our economy,” says Lindsay. “When one is sick or living with a disability, do they become a less valuable human being?” Somebody else who sees the daily struggles of people trying to manage on AISH is Mezaun Lakha-Evin, Director of Programs & Services at the Cerebral Palsy Association in Alberta. Mezaun agrees benefits need to be more reflective of the cost of living. Asked if the current benefits received are adequate, Mezaun simply replies with a firm ‘no’. “Nobody likes to live in debt when there is constant worry or fear of being able to meet the next bill or rent,” says Lakha-Evin. “It would also be helpful for many to have some extra money for emergencies as well as just have some security to manage their finances.” Lakha-Evin adds that with most or all of monthly benefits going straight to the essentials – food, shelter, transportation and medical – it leaves little, if any, for additional expenditures most of us take for granted. “Adequate benefits would not only allow AISH recipients to meet basic necessities, but also participate in social activities, thereby increasing their self esteem, health and quality of life. When people have the opportunity to fully participate in our community, we all benefit.” For more information regarding the increases to AISH, visit http://www.seniors.gov.ab.ca/aish/. (Ramona Johnston is Manager of Vibrant Communities Calgary, a local non-profit povertyreduction organization.)


								
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