Alberta’s government is making it almost impossible for Ukrainian refugees to access provincial support despite recent funding announcements, says a former Progressive Conservative MLA.
Last Friday on the first year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Ministry of Seniors, Community and Social Services announced $20.3 million for housing and financial supports for Ukrainian evacuees.
Thomas Lukaszak said the province is well aware that many Ukrainians can’t prove that they qualify for assistance.
“We’re dealing here with refugees. They can’t verify what assets they have because they can’t just write to a bank in Ukraine right now to send statements. They are in the middle of a war over there,” Lukaszak said.
Even if they did own a house or vehicle, relentless Russian bombings may have destroyed them, he added.
“These barriers being set up with these asset tests are simply ridiculous. You don’t have to be familiar with the plight of a refugee to know they escaped a war zone and their assets back home are of zero benefit to them, and establishing what assets they have, or don’t have, is virtually impossible.
“This has been raised to the government’s attention on several occasions by applicants, by social agencies, and by others advocating for Ukrainians and they are simply not willing to change this.”
The former Edmonton MLA and Ukraine supporter said Ukrainians are arriving in Canada at best with one suitcase.
“Some didn’t even have a suitcase. They came with little plastic shopping bags. That’s all they managed to get out of Ukraine. How do you apply an asset test to them?”
He said upon arrival, each Ukrainian refugee receives $3,000 from the federal government to address their immediate needs, but rent is expensive and language barriers can make it difficult to access work.
Funding announcements may sound impressive, but accessing that assistance is out of reach for many Ukrainians, Lukaszak said.
“(The UCP government) likes making big announcements about how much they support Ukraine and Ukrainians, but with zero intention to actually pay out the dollars.”
Last week the province announced that with $6.8 million made available in late 2022-23, Ukrainian evacuees are eligible to apply for the same social housing and rent supplement programs as other Albertans, beginning Feb. 24.
Budget 2023 would inject $9.9 million into Alberta’s Rent Supplement Program to support the increased number of people eligible.
The budget would also provide $3.6 million to support the continuation of financial benefits similar to Income Support for Ukrainian evacuees, which began last March.
The Ukrainian Evacuee Emergency Financial Support and Benefits program would be extended until January 2024 to ensure access to both new and existing eligible applicants. The six-month maximum duration of benefits would also be eliminated.
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