Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'There are lots of right things to do,' says Oswald

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RAISING social assistance housing rates to 75 per cent of the median market rate, so families can live in decent homes, is "the right goal", Jobs and Economy Minister Theresa Oswald said Saturday.

"I have heard loudly and I have heard clearly from experts and advocates that want us to ensure that stable housing is fundamental to helping people in poverty improve their situations," Oswald told delegates at the NDP's annual convention.

"We agree that 75 per cent as a target is the right goal. We agree that 75 per cent is absolutely the right thing to do, but we also must acknowledge that there are some very real challenges to meeting that goal."

Oswald said those challenges include dealing with other funding commitments in the March 6 budget -- a budget in which the NDP must make some headway in reducing the deficit at a time of lower-than-expected transfer payments from Ottawa.

"We don't want to raise shelter benefits in a way that creates a poverty trap," she added.

Oswald, besides being one of the key government ministers on the Selinger government's infrastructure spending plan, is also responsible for employment and income assistance.

She said other than increasing shelter benefits, the government must also address the plight of the working poor and increase child-care availability and job-training programs aimed at getting people off welfare.

That will need to be done over several budgets, she said.

"There are lots of right things to do that people are asking us to do in this budget, but you can bet that I'm going to be in there swinging to make sure that this is one of the right things to do, that indeed we commit to do in the coming budgets ahead," she said in an interview.

Increasing the rate was recommended by commissioner Ted Hughes in his recently released report from the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair.

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister has promised to raise the welfare housing rate, now at $285 per month, to 75 per cent of median market rents within the first year of forming a government.

Oswald said Pallister's plan will not help everyone living in poverty.

"For their vision, it's still tens of millions of dollars to do what they want to do, which we say is inadequate and inefficient and if I may say, insincere," she said.

 

-- Bruce Owen

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2014 A3

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