City of Edmonton prepared for backlog amid AISH payment changes

In light of changes to Assured Income for the Severely Handicap and Alberta Income Support, the city reported a 31-per-cent increase in the number of customers at its service centre at Edmonton Tower. 

AISH and Income Support recipients can only get their low-income bus passes at the Edmonton Tower service centre, or at one of the 10 city’s recreation centres. 

By 4 p.m. Friday the city had served 1,341 customers, and about 360 of them were people on AISH, said Maria Stopainig, director of the integrated service centre.

On the last day of January, the centre served 1,032 customers. 

The province announced last month it will issue AISH and Income Support payments on the first day of each month starting in March. Before the change, payments were received three or four days in advance. 

Because March 1 falls on Sunday this year, AISH and Income Support recipients received their payments on Friday. 

Maria Stopainig is the director of the integrated service centre at Edmonton Tower. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Stopainig said the city was prepared to serve 2,000 customers Friday, which is its peak capacity and the highest number of customers it has served at Edmonton Tower. 

She said the city had been preparing for lineups and a backlog since it heard of the payment schedule changes.  

“We look at past trends and we look at past peaks,” she said, adding the city has hired six additional staff to prepare.  

“And so for the preparation of this peak, we’ve hired more staff. We’ve created an overflow [area] for senior passes, better seating so that they can wait, if wait times exceed 10 minutes.” 

Stopainig said the city has also brought in additional stanchions and seats. 

“We even have text messaging, so if the wait time does go over an hour, which we’ve seen in the past … they can give us their cell number and we can message them. And that way, they can go have coffee, come back and get the service that they need.” 

Stopainig anticipated Friday afternoon would be the busiest hours. She said staff had been able to help 30 to 50 people every 15 minutes. 

The city said the average wait time on Friday was 11 minutes. 

Stretching dollars 

Cameron Kubik waited in line at Edmonton Tower for about 10 minutes to get his low-income bus pass.

Kubik has been receiving AISH payments since 2014 and was frustrated by the change. 

“I’m going to have to be more frugal than the scrooge because then I’ve got to stretch my money to make things last even longer,” he said, adding that it will be difficult to make payments on the last day of the month. 

“You try and eat nothing but potatoes and macaroni and beans for an entire month,” he said. “You know you’re going to have expenses coming up and … you know you can’t afford it. Where does it come out of? Your grocery budget.”

Cameron Kubik says changes to the payment schedules means he has to stretch his dollars longer. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The province said it changed the schedule to ensure there wasn’t a long wait between payments, such as at Christmas, when there was a gap as long as 41 days. The ministry said it saw a spike in requests for emergency help in January.

The department has not explained why the change had to be made on such short notice. 

Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said there was “no opportune time” to make the change.

“I recognize that this hasn’t been easy for a lot of folks with the movements, and changing to their banking information and requirements, but quite honestly there’s never a great time to do it,” she said in an interview with CBC News in February. 

The City of Edmonton is also anticipating high volumes of people at its service centre on Monday because of the payment schedule changes. 

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