Analyzing Alberta Budget 2024

Budget 2024 provides large investments in housing and recovery supports and keeps pace on other poverty reducing priorities

26 March 2024

Notebook with budget magnified with a magnifying glass

Under a new fiscal framework that mandates balanced budgets and surplus cash to debt repayment, Budget 2024 attempts to balance the needs of Alberta’s diverse and growing population with the need to reduce our reliance on resource revenues. To ensure we proactively invest in our communities and target the root causes of poverty, spending must meet inflation and population growth. We are pleased investments above growth and inflation were made in areas such as housing and recovery.

Not unlike the province’s new fiscal framework, investments in poverty-reducing measures, like affordable housing, income support, and education, will also yield long-term returns for the province. Income support, for example, is sent directly to individuals to help them meet their basic needs. Studies show this improves their overall health, reducing food insecurity and reduced healthcare costs. Investing in affordable housing is also foundational to health, education, and economic opportunity by reducing homelessness and providing safety and security. Investing in education can have far-reaching effects for society including higher earning potentials, increased tax revenues, and reduced reliance on social services and charitable organizations.

Housing is health; Not just for individuals and families, but for our economy too. We are pleased that when it comes to affordable housing, Budget 2024 was not constrained by the new fiscal framework. According to available numbers for the Alberta Social Housing Corporation, operating funding has surpassed inflation and growth costs, going from $200 million in 2023 to $257 million in 2024, representing a 29% increase. Capital Maintenance and Renewal funding for seniors’ facilities and housing has been allocated $40 million per year over the next three years, marking a 25% increase from Budget 2023. Budget 2024 provides funding to deliver an additional 39,000 units in 2024 and 2025 – the fastest pace since 2014. However, according to the CMHC Rental Report, this is still insufficient to meet current demand levels for rentals. We are hopeful that the targets in Stronger Foundations, Alberta’s Affordable Housing, will be met with this additional funding, and we look forward to the release of Ministry annual reports for more clarity on the progress of the government’s affordable housing targets. 

Alberta is rapidly growing. In fact, about 186,000 new people moved to the province in 2023. This rapid growth was likely not factored into the government's most recent affordable housing targets from 2021. Most of Alberta’s newcomers likely won’t need affordable housing, but it’s essential we continue building new rentals to ensure no one is spending more than 30% of their income on housing. Research from the School of Public Policy indicates 115,000 Calgarians are at extreme risk of homelessness, and around 350 people a month become homeless for the first time in Calgary. Modest policy interventions, such as rental subsidies, can significantly reduce this risk, so VCC is pleased to see that Alberta’s rental subsidy program received a funding increase of 9.19% from last year, to support an additional 550 Alberta households. However, this funding is insufficient to eliminate the waitlist for rental assistance which currently sits at 18,500.

Income Supports are essential to ensure basic needs are met. Income support and Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) have been indexed to inflation at a rate of 4.25%. For the 76,000 Albertans on AISH and the 50,000 on income support, the increased benefits are a positive step to address the rising cost of living. Table 1 below shows how funding for AISH increased to accommodate indexation and caseload growth at 5%. However, income support funding was flat despite a 4% increase in caseload growth, and with Budget 2024 projecting an increase in the unemployment rate from 5.9% to 6.5%, this could leave more individuals struggling to meet their basic needs. It remains to be seen if a program redesign is intended, or if there are projections that caseloads will decrease.

Any funding increases are only the first step in improving government programs. To ensure funding increases meet their targets and benefit Albertans, robust and informative frameworks must be in place to track them.  

Table 1: Comparison of AISH and Income Support Budget with caseloads

Many have seen this as a balancing act of a budget, meeting a middle ground of fiscal responsibility and spending on public services. While the government's focus on saving for the future and reducing reliance on resource revenues is commendable, simply "keeping pace" on important budget items such as income supports may exacerbate existing problems, such as rising rates of food bank visits and health challenges. Poverty is not free, it comes at an estimated cost of $7.1-9.5 billion annually in healthcare, increased crime, and reduced economic activity.

VCC looks forward to continued collaboration with all orders of government, on how we can continue to support their efforts to reduce poverty.  

For further insight into Budget 2024, Calgary’s Social Policy Collaborative breaks it down.

We wish to thank Master of Public Policy Student Francine Nelson from the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy for her support with this analysis.

Stack of money

Alberta Budget 2024

In February, the Government of Alberta released its latest budget. The Social Policy Collaborative breaks it down in seven core areas.