EDMONTON — Albertans on income-support programs are to begin receiving inflation-relief payments at the end of the month.
Affordability Minister Matt Jones said Monday that the first of six monthly $100 cheques are to be sent out on Jan. 31.
The money is to go to those receiving aid under programs such as the Alberta Seniors Benefit, the Persons with Developmental Disabilities program and Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped.
Other eligible Albertans can begin by signing up on a government web portal or by visiting a registry office starting Jan. 18.
Those 65 and over, as well as families with children under 18, are also eligible for $100 a month for six months, with that amount available for each child.
Those applicants cannot have a household income above $180,000 a year.
People on income support programs are already set up to receive payments and do not have to apply through the online portal.
The program follows up on a promise made in November by Premier Danielle Smith to help Albertans facing higher costs on a range of goods and services, from gasoline to electricity bills.
The program is set at $2.8 billion over three years.
“We will deliver these payments in a safe, fast and effective way, and we will act quickly to adapt and respond as needed in the months ahead,” Jones told a news conference.
“These monthly affordability payments will provide real relief to those who need it most.”
The Opposition NDP has questioned the government setting up its own portal rather than using the Canada Revenue Agency.
The province said it will use the CRA to verify household incomes and eligibility, but using it to distribute the cheques would mean an intolerable delay, with payments not expected to begin until April.
The NDP noted recent Alberta COVID-19 relief aid programs were plagued with technical problems, along with scant oversight and followup, resulting in payments to those not eligible while others were wrongly denied help.
“I sincerely hope that the (United Conservative Party’s) portal functions properly and Albertans are able to use it easily, but nothing in the UCP’s record suggests that will be the case,” said NDP MLA Irfan Sabir.
“The UCP’s history of developing these online tools has been one failure after another. Albertans are paying for the UCP to build a duplicate system that may or may not work. And for many Albertans, there are no benefits available through this new portal.”
Technology and Innovation Minister Nate Glubish said the COVID-19 programs had to be designed quickly, while officials have had two months to set up this new portal to ensure it is reliable and secure.
Sabir said he was also disappointed to see no concrete action from Jones on lowering high auto insurance rates. The NDP is calling for an interim freeze on the rates while a solution is sought.
Smith promised quick action on that file a month ago after a report commissioned by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia stated Albertans are paying among the highest rates in Canada.
Jones told reporters he is consulting with industry leaders, but could not offer a rough timeline on next steps.
Sabir accused the UCP of igniting the high rates by lifting a previously existing cap.
“On all these matters, the UCP is not serious about addressing the affordability crisis they helped create.”