Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Panned on poverty

Advocates see little help for low-income Manitobans

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A budget that hits the pocketbook of every Manitoban will be especially cruel to the province's poor, poverty advocates said Tuesday.

Despite some retooling to give people on Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) an extra $20 a month, they say that's not enough to help the province's poor and least able.

"That increase is simply not enough to address the affordability gap that people face in housing right now," Make Poverty History Manitoba spokeswoman Kirsten Bernas said Tuesday after the budget details were announced.

Make Poverty History Manitoba had asked the province to increase the rental allowance to 75 per cent of median market rent for Manitobans who rely on EIA.

The government had estimated the increase would cost the treasury approximately $18.5 million annually -- less than one per cent of its budget.

Poverty advocates say the money would be well-spent as not only would it give the poor a boost, but that money would go back into the economy.

Make Poverty History Manitoba has found allies for its cause in Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister and Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard.

Pallister has vowed that, if elected, he would increase the rental allowance to 75 per cent of the median market rent in Winnipeg. It means a single person on welfare would receive an estimated $375 to $385 a month for rent instead of the current $285.

"We're seeing rates of food-bank use which are double the rest of Canada," Gerrard said Tuesday, adding the new budget fails to recognize an increase in welfare shelter rates.

Bernas said the coalition welcomes the province's commitment to add 500 more low-income housing units, but noted those units won't become available for about two years.

"We're concerned about what people are going to do today to meet their housing needs," she said, adding the minimum-wage hike to $10.45 an hour won't help many recipients either as they are unable to work.

Housing and Community Development Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said the province will increase RentAid to $240 a year for those who are eligible. RentAid is a monthly benefit available to low-income seniors, families with children and persons with disabilities as well as EIA participants who are paying rent.

"It's going to ensure that people have a little bit more money to put toward their rent," she said.

She said the province is introducing a new rental-housing construction tax credit, equal to eight per cent of the capital cost of new rental-housing construction, with 10 per cent having to be affordable housing.

"We also increased the personal exemption by another $250 so that means that 5,500 people will be off income tax, they won't have to pay income tax, so that also makes a big difference for people living with a low income," she said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2013 B4

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