Every time a budget is announced, Vibrant Communities Calgary is asked about how it will impact those living on low incomes. The past few years, in particular, we’ve had costs going up at record levels and wages and income support payments not keeping up. So, we were pleased to see several measures in last week’s federal budget that would benefit poverty reduction efforts in Calgary, including:
- Introducing a one-time Grocery Rebate for 11 million Canadians which is a GST top-up of $267 for single people earning a net income of less than $49,166 annually, or $467 for a family of four earning less than $58,506.
- Accelerating claims processing and reducing backlogs for Employment Insurance and Old Age Security with additional funding to Service Canada.
- Introducing affordable housing measures like new rules to address speculative trading in the housing market and flipping properties, new funding to remove barriers and incentivize housing supply growth, and new funding for affordable housing and to address chronic houselessness.
- Improving job protections for federally regulated gig workers so they can't be classified as something other than “employees” to enable Canada Labour Code rights and protections.
- Increasing student loan grants, raising the student loan interest-free limit, and improving access to federal student loan grants for mature students.
- Introducing a dental care plan coverage for uninsured Canadians with incomes under $90 thousand annually. And for Canadians with no co-pays for incomes under $70,000. There's also money to increase access to dental care.
- Introducing changes to the Criminal Code to crack down on predatory lending and new legislative amendments to crack down on “Junk Fees” like higher telecom roaming charges, event and concert fees, excess baggage fees, and unjustified shipping and freight fees.
- New funding for the RCMP to protect Canadians from harassment and intimidation, increase its investigative capacity, and ability to engage with communities more proactively.
- Expanding the File my Return program for people with very low incomes to file their taxes over the phone and piloting a new automatic filing service to help vulnerable Canadians who currently do not file their taxes receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
While we see these as steps in the right direction, many won’t be implemented soon enough to offer Calgarians the help they need right now. Additionally, some critics say the affordability measures don’t go far enough and the budget only highlights previously announced measures on housing and housing affordability. The other noticeable gap was after extensive consultation on modernizing the employment insurance program last year, the budget does not include any of the needed reforms like improving benefit adequacy, earned income exemptions, and reducing red tape. Check out what VCC had to say about the budget.