As provinces hand out cash, advocates say inflation help should be more targeted

As provinces hand out cash, advocates say inflation help should be more targeted

2022 October 10–As provincial governments hand out one-time cash payments to help residents cope with inflation, anti-poverty advocates say the efforts are a missed opportunity to help those most in need.

Doug Pawson, the executive director of Newfoundland-based anti-poverty group End Homelessness St. John’s, says that while every dollar helps, the one-time nature of the payments mean they don’t address people’s enduring needs.

Doug Pawson, executive director of End Homelessness St. John’s, poses for a picture in the City Centre of St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador on Friday, October 30, 2020. Anti-poverty advocates say the one-time cash payments being given to aid residents in several provinces deal with inflation are a missed opportunity to help those with the most need. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

“It strikes me as a bit of lazy policy in the sense that you could really target these funds to be to have more impact, and meaningful impact,” he said in an interview Sunday.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced last week it would send $500 cheques to all residents who made less than $100,000 last year, with those earning up to $125,000 getting smaller cheques — a plan that echoes similar programs in Quebec and Saskatchewan.

The initiative is expected to cost nearly $200 million.

Pawson said that when an “unprecedented” number of people and families in St. John’s are experiencing homelessness, it would be better to offer sustained support to help people who are struggling to pay for utilities, food and basic necessities living expenses.

“It’s a lot of money that’s being put out and there’s nothing meaningful that’s going to come from it, in the same way, that targeted investments into housing, for example, could have had,” he said.

The Newfoundland and Labrador finance department said the measure is just one of several intended to help people deal with inflation.

“We have one of the most responsive sets of cost-of-living measures relative to other Canadian provinces,” spokeswoman Victoria Barbour wrote in an email. “Many of these cost-of-living initiatives focused on the most vulnerable. These included increases to the income supplement and seniors’ benefit, as well as a one-time payment to those on income support.”

Other provinces have taken similar steps. Saskatchewan has said it will give all residents who completed a tax return last year a one-time payment of $500, while Manitoba is giving all families with incomes up to $175,00 a $250 cheque for their first child and $200 for each additional child under 18.

In Quebec, where the provincial government sent $500 cheques to most residents earlier this year, the second round of inflation payments is planned for December. Those will see all residents who earned less than $100,000 in 2021 get $400, with those earning less than $50,000 getting an additional $200.

The cost of that second payment is estimated at around $3.5 billion.

Tasha Lackman, the executive director of The Depot Community Food Centre in Montreal, said her group has seen requests for emergency food assistance double since the spring as people on fixed or low incomes struggle to keep up with the rising cost of groceries.

“Those kinds of measures are not long-term solutions, they’re band-aid solutions,” she said in an interview Sunday. “These band-aid solutions are not addressing the major issues. We need stable income floors, that nobody can fall below; we need social housing, or affordable housing, and access to those housing programs, and that’s not what we’re seeing.”

Ewan Sauves, a spokesman for Quebec Premier François Legault, said the rising cost of living is affecting everyone and that the December payments will be “more generous for lower income individuals and families.”

Sauves wrote in an email the Quebec government has also committed to spend $1.8 billion on the construction of new social and affordable housing, help more than 7,000 households pay their rent and provide $20 million in infrastructure funding for food banks.

Dan Meades, the provincial co-ordinator of the Transition House Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, said in an interview Saturday that while inflation is hurting everyone, higher-income families can make choices about their spending that aren’t open to someone making $15,000 a year.

“I don’t disagree that everybody is having a hard time, but it can’t be the government’s job to care for those of us that have the most, it has to be the government’s job to care for those of us that are most vulnerable and have the least, first,” he said.

By Jacob Serebrin in Montreal