Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 1, 1999
Commission happy as gov't backs down
Oberg protects AISH after groups protest proposed revision
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Under pressure from churches and disabled groups, the Alberta government has shelved plans to phase out the province's disability benefit program.
Instead, the government plans to pump $10 million more into the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped.
Social Services Minister Lyle Oberg made the announcement Jan. 26. He said a leaked memo from last September no longer reflects the AISH and Assured Support revamp.
The leaked document revealed plans to replace AISH with a new welfare-style program called Open Doors. That program has now been dropped.
John Lynch, coordinator of the archdiocesan Social Justice Commission, is happy with the news.
"I think Dr. Oberg got the message," he said Jan. 27. "I think Dr. Oberg heard the cry of the disabled and he certainly was very conscious of the fact that the Church had gotten involved on behalf of the disabled."
Lynch had strongly criticized the proposed revamping of AISH. He sent a letter to Catholic parishes Jan. 25 asking parishioners to urge the provincial government to keep the essentials of the program.
Now he plans to write back to the parishes asking them to monitor the situation as well as the government's response to Oberg's recommendations. "I think it's time to cooperate with Dr. Oberg. He's come out. He's made his move. We've got to be there with him."
Lynch met with Oberg before the press conference and said the minister "seems to be genuinely concerned about doing the best job he can for the disabled community in Alberta."
"The changes that he is recommending are excellent. If he comes through with this I'll be the first one to congratulate him."
Instead, AISH will continue with changes that will provide job training opportunities, extend medical benefits to clients who move off the program and into the workforce, easily reinstate those who try to work but can't, make benefits reflect the size of a client's family, introduce asset-testing.
"What will be happening is we'll be expanding the AISH program," Oberg told reporters. "I will guarantee people that there will be no cuts, absolutely. This program, quite frankly, is going to cost us money."
The minister now expects to add more than $10 million to AISH and the Assured Support benefit in the next provincial budget.
The leaked document called for changes that would have pushed about 1,500 people off AISH and saved $14 million.
That would have paid for increases in the number of clients and job training in the new Open Doors program. While AISH clients receive a maximum of $823 a month, clients under Open Doors would have received $610.
Lynch said the new plan may run into problems with its job training aspect.
"They want to get these people moved toward employment opportunities but I challenge that part (because) we live in a time when able-bodied people can't find employment."
Oberg said no changes will be finalized until October, after another round of consultations.
"I'll be asking people to put an element of trust in me," he said. "If I don't follow through with this then crucify me."