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Red Deer woman struggling with rising costs on a fixed disability pension

‘It’s a sad state of affairs,’ said Joanne Buhler
NDP Finance critic Shannon Phillips (centre), Children’s Services critic Rakhi Pancholi (left) and Seniors and Housing critic Lori Sigurdson (right) were in Red Deer to speak against the UCP government de-indexing supports. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Joanne Buhler says she has to choose between buying food and purchasing vitamins to help her mental health.

Existing on a disability pension keeps getting harder in Alberta, says the Red Deer woman.

Buhler spoke out on Monday against the UCP government’s de-indexing of AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) at a press conference held in front of Red Deer City Hall by the Alberta NDP.

Under the former NDP government, provincial AISH payments increased each year to keep up with inflation said Buhler. Now, there are no more annual increases under the UCP, even though inflation is the highest it’s been in 30 years.

“As a human being… it’s a sad state of affairs,” said Buhler, who suffers from severe depression and injuries from falling while working in construction.

The $1,685 she receives monthly from AISH doesn’t go far after paying for rent and utilities, she said.

Buhler and her roommate are now paying twice as much for electricity — last month it was $229 versus $85 — since the UCP removed the cap from what utility companies can charge.

While the provincial government is providing Albertans with a 13 cent gas rebate, that isn’t nearly enough when fuel and car insurance, which also had its cap removed by the UCP, have sky-rocketed, added Buhler. “I”m thinking of selling my car…”

The 61-year-old now works part-time at a minimum wage job to supplement her AISH income but still feels in financial straits.

Although the government pays for her prescription drugs, it doesn’t pay for supplements that can be purchased off store shelves. “I had to stop buying vitamin D to help my depression and calcium for my bones so I have enough money for food… For a real person, it’s ugly,” said Buhler.

Alberta NDP Finance critic Shannon Phillips, Children’s Services critic Rakhi Pancholi and Seniors and Housing critic Lori Sigurdson also spoke out against UCP decisions they say are exacerbating the impacts of inflation.

While de-indexing government supports, the UCP has removed the caps off of utility and auto insurance bills, which are costing Albertans thousands more each year, said Phillips. School taxes and post-secondary tuitions have also gone up, she added.

Sigurdson calculated that de-indexed supports will cost some families $3,000 a year and some low-income seniors $750 annually. “It will have a devastating effect.”

Pancholi fears many low-income families will face utility cut-offs for not being able to pay their bills.

In response, Justin Marshall, spokesperson from Alberta Community and Social Services, said the Alberta government will provide $150 in electricity rebates to nearly two million homes, farms and small businesses to help retroactively cover the high costs of winter heating.

As for de-indexed supports, Marshall added Alberta’s AISH rates are the highest among the provinces.

He noted the UCP’s 2022 budget is also investing $34 million in employment supports “to empower the most vulnerable and help them reach their full potential.”

Marshall blamed the rising inflation on federal government spending habits. He said Albertans have many advantages — including the lowest overall income taxes, higher wages, among the lowest housing, food and transportation costs in the country.

Since auto insurance caps were removed, seven insurers have filed for premium reductions, Marshall added.

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