A change to AISH deposit dates has led to missed rent payments and overdue charges for some Albertans who rely on the money to pay their bills.
In January, the province announced that starting in March, Albertans receiving Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped benefits would receive their payments on the first day of each month.
Previously, the payment date was a few days before the start of the month. But if the month starts on a weekend or holiday, payments are to be deposited or mailed on the last business day of the previous month.
The same change applies to Albertans receiving benefits under the Income Support program.
Les Landry, from Redcliff, Alta., said his March AISH payment was deposited on Friday, Feb. 28. His rent cheque, which is handled through a third-party agreement, was received by his landlord on Wednesday.
Landry was charged a $50 late fee, he said.
“It’s kind of trivial to somebody who’s making $200,000 a year, but that’s a lot of money for us,” he said.
NDP MLA Marie Renaud, the Opposition critic for Community and Social Services, said she’s heard from other AISH recipients who are in similar situations.
“Many Albertans have arrangements with AISH so that there is a direct payment made to their landlord or property manager,” Renaud said.
“People are being fined and assessed late payment fees. People are frightened. People are confused.”
Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said the AISH payment schedule was modified to ensure benefits were received in a predictable manner.
Her staff will work with recipients to ensure a smooth transition, she said.
“My department staff is in touch with them,” Sawhney said. “They are also encouraged to talk to their case workers as well.”
Landry said the only solution he could find was to pay his rent a month in advance, a decision that’s stretched his finances even thinner.
“I’m sitting here with $69 in my account that’s supposed to last me for the month.”
He’s calling on the government to reverse its decision.
“We were already on a dependable, reliable schedule and it was four business days before the end of the month,” Landry said.
Difficult to make ends meet
According to the latest statistics, about 68,000 Albertans received AISH benefits in December while another 61,000 received payments under Income Support, which provides benefits to those who can’t meet their basic needs.
The government says about 97 per cent of AISH and Income Support recipients receive payments via direct deposit. Those who receive cheques by mail are to get them on the benefit date or within three business days.
Edmonton AISH recipient Casey McCarthy said receiving her March money on the last day of February had unintended financial consequences.
“Things like bus passes had to come out of my food budget,” McCarthy said.
She said she’s already contending with less money, since the Alberta government no longer indexes AISH to the cost of living.
“I had to pull my budget so tight, I don’t know how long I can stretch it. It feels like it’s going to snap next month.”
Christopher Mitchell and his wife both receive AISH payments.
The couple can no longer afford to live in their current home and are moving at the end of March, Mitchell said.
“With our rent coming out on the 1st, now we have to budget more carefully and hope that we can survive until we move into the new place.”
The couple had to turn to the Edmonton food bank for help this week, Mitchell said.
“I really didn’t want to do that,” he said. “Other people need it much more than I do. I don’t want to be taking from other families.”
Impact on landlords
Landlord Yvonne Dean manages properties for Studios Alberta Ltd., a company based in Ponoka, Alta., that rents to low-income Albertans.
About half of her 90 low-income tenants receive payments through AISH, Dean said.
Many of them have agreements with a third party who mails rent cheques on their behalf once the sum is deposited in their accounts.
“That means that all of our AISH rent cheques that we receive because of third-party payment agreements were released on Feb. 28,” she said.
“We got them in the mail [Tuesday] morning.”
The late rent payments add up to a temporary $20,000 gap, which the company could deal with by moving money around, Dean said.
AISH recipients don’t have the luxury of dipping into their savings, she said.
“Now they’re being faced with having their automatic withdrawals not honoured because money didn’t hit their account in time. Some of my tenants, I know, were extremely stressed out.”