Friday Focus: We Must Fix AISH

Just a few hours ago, I met with the host of the disability-focused channel Feminist on Wheels to discuss a long-languishing and shameful reality.  The government is failing Albertans with disabilities and has for a long time. 

Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) payments, even with recent increases, still fall below the poverty line. This chronic underfunding leaves many, likely most,  recipients in a constant state of financial insecurity. The cost of living in Alberta has risen at the fastest rate in Canada, yet AISH benefits have not kept pace, forcing many to choose between basic necessities like food, medication, and rent. AISH pays up to $22,356 annually. The poverty line in Edmonton is about $28,000.

AISH also creates barriers to people with disabilities finding employment. AISH takes back every dollar in earned income 1 for 1 over a relatively meagre cut off, so every dollar they earn above the cut off is a dollar in income support taken away. As you can imagine, this creates problems for those on AISH, including:

1. Having a job isn’t free. Employment involves costs such as transportation, suitable clothing, and potentially additional support services, which are not accounted for under the current AISH structure

2. Taxes create a cash flow problem. When recipients earn income, they may face immediate reductions in AISH benefits while some of their income is taken for taxes, leading to periods where they might not have sufficient funds to cover their basic needs. While they will get a refund at tax time, that doesn’t help their current budget today. 

And this is not getting into other barriers (financial and physical) that disabled people face in making their way through life. In addition to transportation challenges, they face barriers in education, in housing and have difficulty accessing the same job market as the able-bodied. 

Albertans with disabilities and other vulnerable Albertans should be a priority of the government. They’re the ones who need help the most. They deserve to be treated with dignity and not be neglected by the government and left to fend for themselves. If we can’t look after our most vulnerable in society, we have failed. 

The federal government has recently created the Canada Disability Benefit. It turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment as it didn’t fulfill the high hopes the disabled community had for it. But it’s a start in the right direction. The provincial government, however, hasn’t said whether it will claw the benefit amount back from those who receive it. This is wrong, Premier Smith and the UCP-run government needs to agree not to claw the benefit back. The Alberta Liberal party will continue to advocate for the government to confirm the benefit won’t be clawed back, so that our disabled citizens’ lives can be improved. We will all be better for it.

As always, I appreciate your support.