Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 1, 2003
Activists worry over rumours of cuts to benefits
AISH policy review prompts call for citizens' action
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The archdiocesan Social Justice Commission is calling on Catholics to come to the aid of AISH recipients, their families and friends.
Commission coordinator John Lynch says the provincial government's closed-door review of AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) appears to be a direct attempt to downgrade the benefits of the program.
"We are calling on Minister of Human Resources and Employment Clint Dunford to engage in a proper consultation process that is focused on making AISH both better and sustainable," Lynch said in a recent letter to parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
"We must use our political pressure to keep the AISH issue alive. Keep it in the face of the government members in a way that makes them understand that our disabled sisters and brothers are special in the heart of Jesus and in our hearts as well."
However, a spokesman for the human resources department says no review of AISH is underway nor is the government planning one.
Human Resources spokesperson James Frey said the only review that's coming in October next year is the "legislative" review of the program, which looks at the act itself and tends to be very vague.
"It doesn't deal with policy, it doesn't deal with regulations and certainly it doesn't deal with rates."
"Any time we ever do review any type of policy or procedure we never do it behind close doors," he said.
The Alberta Disabilities Forum (ADF), in which Lynch participates underlines the need for open consultation with the disability community.
"We must be involved in any decisions that could result in changes to the AISH program," said Bev Matthiessen, co-chair of ADF, a group that represents 33 disability organizations in the province.
Both Lynch and the ADF fear that cuts to AISH are being recommended behind closed doors to the detriment of the over 30,000 Albertans who depend on the $850 a month benefit to survive.
Their fear was sparked by recent government estimates that an additional $37 million would be needed in the next two years to pay for AISH.
"I defy anybody to make it on $850 a month."
- Mark Pickup
Dunford, the human resources minister, has said AISH should remain a separate program but it is no longer sustainable.
"He has launched an internal review to look at changing the program," warns Matthiessen in a Nov. 17 letter to ADF members.
"Minister Dunford is under pressure to control spending on AISH. His options are limited but may include such things as reducing benefits, cutting back the total assets limits or making it more difficult to qualify for or retain AISH benefits."
The Social Justice Commission, ADF and other advocates for people with disabilities believe AISH is an essential support program that helps to be independents and should be strengthened rather than weakened.
"They've being toying with AISH for years but that's an area that must not be touched," said Mark Pickup, who is disabled with multiple sclerosis.
"I defy anybody to make it on $850 a month."
Lynch said any cutback would be an aberration because many AISH recipients cannot make ends meet with the current income.
He told the story of a woman who has to actively search for dinner invitations from family and friends on the last week of each month because at that point she has completely run out of money.
"We can't allow this government to downgrade this program."
ADF is proposing the following AISH enhancements, which will be taken to Premier Ralph Klein, Dunford and all MLAs:
Catholics should call, write or visit their MLAs to ensure the AISH program is strengthened, not weakened, Lynch said.
- Guarantee medical benefits to recipients by separating them from income support.
- Enable AISH recipients to retain more of what they earn. Currently they are allowed to earn a maximum of $200. Any amount over that is clawed back from the guaranteed income of $850.
- Maintain the current asset limit. AISH recipients are currently allowed an asset limit of up $100,000 but few reach that limit, which usually takes the form of trust funds set up by their families for their future care.
- Improve career and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
- Increase income support by 26 per cent so basic living expenses are covered.
"It is our obligation to do as we can to protect the common good of the AISH recipients."