When the provincial budget was introduced on Wednesday, it included $1.386 billion dollars for social services – an increase of 3.4 percent from the previous year. Part of the increase in the funding is being directed to the Saskatchewan Income Support Program, which will see basic benefits increased by $30 per month, and shelter benefits up to $25 a month. This will give recipients of social assistance, under the SIS program, $315 for basic needs, and $600 for shelter and utilities.
"This year's budget supports Saskatchewan people and children in need, while also providing opportunities and assistance as they work to build better lives for themselves," Social Services Minister Lori Carr said in the press release when the budget was released. "The ministry will continue to focus on building strong partnerships with community-based service providers, to better meet the needs of clients today and into the future."
For critics, many were wondering why the increase for basic and shelter benefits came out to less than two dollars a day. The question was raised Thursday during question period in the provincial legislature by NDP MLA Meara Conway.
“For the thousands of families on SIS, they can expect a whopping $30 a month for basic benefits,” Conway said in the lead-up to her question to Carr. “Not even half a tank a gas, not even enough to buy a bag of groceries, not even enough to keep lockstep with the inflation on the Bank of Canada’s own numbers and not even enough to reach half the official poverty line. To the minister – how is a buck a day going to alleviate the financial pressures SIS clients were already facing before the rising cost of living.”
In response, Carr stated that the Ministry of Social Services has programs to help people overcome their challenges, increase their income, become self-sufficient and start a career.
“The Saskatchewan Income assistance rates are similar if not better than rate sin other provinces, and that’s before the increase to SIS that we announced in this budget,” Carr said. “They did receive $30 a month basic increase benefit, but they also received $25 a month towards their shelter benefit.” She added that when the rates are determined, they are also looked at from a whole income perspective, noting some clients may also be receiving other streams of income such as child tax benefits or a part-time job.
The budget for social services also included $20 million for a new education and training incentive for those on social assistance in addition to other income assistance benefits, another 11.5 million for the Saskatchewan Housing Benefit, $3.0 million to increase the Seniors Income Plan by $30 a month, and $480,000 for money management and trustee supports and services for clients with complex needs.