Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 25, 2004
Speak up for AISH recipients
The existence of severely handicapped people in our midst is a challenge to our faith. This is part of the message Pope John Paul gave when he spoke to disabled people at the Vatican during the 2000 jubilee year.
"Disability is not only a need, but also and above all a stimulus and a plea," the pope said. "Of course, it is a request for help, but even before that it is a challenge to individual and collective selfishness; it is an invitation to ever new forms of brotherhood."
In our work with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we are finding that a large portion of the people who require emergency assistance are those receiving the Alberta government's Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH). These people - who are medically certified as "severely and permanently disabled" and thus unable to work - receive a maximum of $850 a month from AISH.
Out of that allowance, they must pay their rent, utilities, food and other expenses of life. It is a challenge few of us could meet. There has been no significant increase in that $850 allowance since 1993, although the expenses of living have gone up significantly during that time. It is no surprise that more and more people on AISH are turning to churches for food.
On one hand, we welcome these people and their requests. We are willing to help. Meeting them enables us to see a side of society we would not otherwise encounter. It helps us to be grateful for our own abundance. Encountering people in their poverty, as the pope says, invites us "to ever new forms of brotherhood."
On the other hand, we are appalled to see people forced to live on such a stingy stipend in a province overflowing with wealth and whose government is looking forward to a budget surplus for the current year of several billion dollars.
The total cost of AISH to the Alberta government is $394 million. Drug costs make up one-third of that budget. The government is now conducting a review of AISH. A two-member committee is receiving public input until Nov. 30 and will then make recommendations. The recommendations, a government document says, "will then be taken through the government's internal review process in the spring."
One thing that means is another long winter for AISH recipients on $850 or less a month. The Alberta Liberal opposition is calling for an immediate increase of $150 a month to AISH payments. However, even that would not make up for the 20 per cent recipients have lost to inflation since 1993. The need for a large increase is long overdue and should be made now. It should at least account for the amount lost to inflation, with a further increase to come when the government review is completed.
Calgary Bishop Fred Henry spells out another major concern with AISH in his article onPage 19. For those recipients who are able to work a few hours a week or who receive a family inheritance, far too much is clawed back.
The government says it wants to increase the independence of people receiving AISH, but its regulations are a barrier to them achieving independence.
As Christians, we have a duty to speak out on behalf of those whose voices are marginalized. Our society and we ourselves will be judged by how we treat the most vulnerable members of society. Their situation represents a challenge to our humanity or, as Pope John Paul said, "a challenge to individual and collective selfishness."
The province's discussion guide to help you give input to the AISH review is available by phoning 310-4455. It is also available on the web atwww.aishreview.gov.ab.ca. Your input must be received by Nov. 30.
If you want to call for an immediate increase in AISH payments, you can write to Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford at #324, 10800-97 Ave., Edmonton, T5K 2B6 or phone him at (780) 415-4800.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.