Alberta’s NDP is urging the UCP government to adopt a plan that will get much-needed $100 inflation relief payments to people as quickly as possible.
The NDP says in a Thursday news release technical briefings on Bill 2, the Inflation Statutes Amendment Act, showed that the UCP was not going to use Canada Revenue Agency to deliver funding to Albertans who qualify.
The province was instead looking at building its own portal system, one that could require people to apply and then go through an income verification process, something that could take weeks or months.
In a Dec. 21 meeting of Public Accounts, it was made clear that work on such a portal had not even begun and no RFP (request for proposals) to build it had even been issued.
“What exactly is the holdup?” said NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips. “Albertans were promised this money months ago and now the approach we see from government risks both their interests and wasting public money in general.”
Phillips said that at the Public Accounts meeting the province’s auditor general pointed out serious problems with the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grants (SMERG) and the Emergency Isolation Support Program, which were rolled out during the pandemic.
The $650-million SMERG program was designed on an honour-based system. People would apply, get the money upfront, and be verified for eligibility later by the government. However, to date, only 1,055 of the 101,762 recipients have been assessed for eligibility. Of those assessed, 52 per cent of recipients were paid in error.
Likewise, the $100 million Emergency Isolation Support Program was built on the same model — pay up front, verify later. A total of 93,887 Albertans received payments, however when the government attempted to verify eligibility later, they failed. As the auditor general noted, when the government attempted to assess the first 150 people, only 41 responded, most with incomplete information. Thereafter, the government realized it had no capacity to effectively assess and verify, and stopped its efforts.
“While these were emergency programs, important lessons were learned about government capacity and capability that should inform your approach to the upcoming affordability payments,” Phillips wrote in a letter to UCP Finance Minister Travis Toews.
“With that in mind, I strongly encourage you to use established systems through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to ensure timely and accurate payments to Albertans. Doing this would allow Albertans to forgo applying for the $100 payments.
“Given what we learned at the committee, developing a new system within the Government of Alberta to deliver these new affordability payments represents an unacceptable risk of delays on the payments promised to Albertans facing an affordability crisis not seen in 40 years.”