Groups working to bring Manitobans out of poverty say recent changes to welfare programs will make poverty anything but history.
The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act requires the Manitoba government to review and update its poverty reduction strategy at least once every five years. In the spring, the province said it would freeze rent assist for people without disabilities who were on Employment and Income Assistance (EIA), individuals under the age of 55 who are not on EIA, and singles on general assistance.
For people who fall into those categories, it means their monthly supplement remains $576 per month. Meanwhile, people outside of those specifications will receive a $27 increase.
Josh Brandon, committee member of the Make Poverty History Manitoba coalition, said Wednesday that less than 25 per cent of bachelor apartments in Winnipeg rent for less than $600 per month. This makes an extra $27 fairly significant.
In April, it was also announced that single EIA recipients without children, who are not in an approved training program, will become ineligible for a $25 supplement. According to the province's website, this supplement was supposed to help cover miscellaneous expenses while someone actively seeks employment.
These changes come into effect July 1.
Make Poverty History Manitoba is calling for Minister of Families Heather Stefanson to reverse the changes made to rent assist, and for the immediate adoption of their community-based recommendations to reduce the welfare wall.
These recommendations were released in April in Failing Grade: Manitoba Poverty Reduction and Budget 2019, and the coalition says they will allow Manitobans to at least live at the poverty line.
Michael Barkman, chair of the coalition, said the creation of a new category of reduced rent assist "is arbitrary and discriminatory." He said it suggests some people are more deserving of assistance than others, and falsely assumes able-bodied people under the age of 55 can easily find work.
Gloria Knott was a speaker at Wednesday's news conference. Knott works with homeless people on EIA, but there was a time where she herself was on EIA.
At 19 years old, Knott became a single parent with no support systems. Two years later, in 2004, she was accepted for EIA and continued using it until 2011 when she wanted to get a job.
Knott said the $25 cut is a big deal because people on EIA put that money towards food and bus passes to get to work or job interviews.
Brandon said requests to meet with Stefanson have so far been denied.
Stefanson responded to a request for comment on Wednesday with an email, saying the "government continues to make significant investments in Rent Assist to ensure the benefit is available to as many lower-income families as possible.
"Since being elected, in fact, this government has increased the amount of people who receive non-EIA Rent Assist by nearly 40 percent and more than doubled the amount we spend on that program."
"In 2015-16, the province invested $14.9 million towards the program. That investment increased to $37.1 million in this year's budget.
"We recognize there is more work to do and we are committed to getting better results for vulnerable Manitobans."