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Child-benefit overhaul welcome in poverty-plagued Manitoba

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Joy Black, a single mother of two teenagers receiving social assistance.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Joy Black, a single mother of two teenagers receiving social assistance.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/12/2016 (877 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba families are among the biggest beneficiaries of revamped federal child benefit payments, but new estimates suggest the program won't reduce child poverty as much as first predicted.

Since July, 123,630 Manitoba families have been receiving the Canada child benefit. The $22-billion annual program fulfils a Liberal campaign promise to simplify the system by developing a single benefit. The program combined the child tax benefit, the tax benefit supplement and the universal child care benefit, linking them to income and making them tax-free.

The maximum monthly benefit is $533 for a child up to age six and $450 for a child ages six to 17. Under previous programs, the maximum benefit for one child under six was $472.50 and $372.50 for older children, with the benefits adjusted depending on the number of children in a family. The new benefit pays the same per child no matter the size of the family.

The national average monthly payment is $570.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/12/2016 (877 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba families are among the biggest beneficiaries of revamped federal child benefit payments, but new estimates suggest the program won't reduce child poverty as much as first predicted.

Since July, 123,630 Manitoba families have been receiving the Canada child benefit. The $22-billion annual program fulfils a Liberal campaign promise to simplify the system by developing a single benefit. The program combined the child tax benefit, the tax benefit supplement and the universal child care benefit, linking them to income and making them tax-free.

The maximum monthly benefit is $533 for a child up to age six and $450 for a child ages six to 17. Under previous programs, the maximum benefit for one child under six was $472.50 and $372.50 for older children, with the benefits adjusted depending on the number of children in a family. The new benefit pays the same per child no matter the size of the family.

The national average monthly payment is $570.

In Manitoba, the average monthly payment to families is $680 — $8,160 a year — an amount second only to Nunavut among all provinces and territories, matching national data that show Manitoba has the second-highest rate of child poverty, behind Nunavut.

Initially, the Liberals said 11,500 kids would be lifted out of poverty by the benefit, but subsequent analyses using more detailed data show that's likely to be closer to 8,500. Provincewide, the government expects about 21,000 children and 13,900 parents to be lifted out of poverty because of the new benefit.

The Liberals claim the benefit would cut the poverty rate by 40 per cent compared with 2013 levels, however the briefing note suggests that includes three years of declines before 2016, meaning before the new benefit was in place.

Nearly one in 3.5 Manitoba children — 29 per cent— lives in poverty. The number rises to a staggering 79 per cent on First Nations in the province. Among indigenous children living off-reserve, the poverty rate is 39 per cent compared with 18 per cent for non-indigenous children.

Liberal MP Terry Duguid, parliamentary secretary to the minister of families and social development, said the new benefit is designed to help families who need it the most, and nowhere is the need greater than in Manitoba.

"We have grinding poverty in the north and in the inner cities," Duguid said.

The program is making some difference for Fort Richmond mother Joy Black. The single mother of two teens can't work full time because of her son's disabilities. Her family survives on about $10,000 a year before government benefits are factored in. She receives $900 a month from the Canada child benefit, $300 more than she got before the program launched last summer.

"It means we can have Christmas," she said.

The additional money has allowed her to pay down credit card debt and her car repair bill.

"Life is a little bit less stressful," she said.

Donald Benham, director of hunger and poverty awareness for Winnipeg Harvest, said there is no data yet to show whether fewer families are using the food bank. He said front-line staff has observed fewer visits on the day the benefit money is delivered. Traffic is up the day before the cheques arrive because families have run out of cash. Families who didn't receive the benefit come calling a day later, he said.

Benham said there seems to be a number of families who were receiving the old benefits but didn't get the new one because they didn't file their 2015 taxes this year. He said an old program under the Canada Revenue Agency to help community agencies do taxes for low-income families was cancelled so Winnipeg Harvest can't help its clients with their taxes anymore, meaning some do not end up filing them.

In 2015, food-bank use in Manitoba declined about three per cent, something Benham believes may be related to the full rollout of the province's rent assist program, which offers help to low-income families who don't live in provincial housing. The food bank is crunching numbers to try to determine whether the Canada child benefit will have a similar effect, although it cautions the influx of Syrian refugees may affect food-bank use.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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