Blog | November 27, 2013

By Katie May, Lethbridge HeraldAlberta’s government would have to spend $1 billion extra a year to reduce child poverty in the province, a new advocacy group’s report suggests.While Alberta’s economy is growing, an estimated 84,000 Albertan children – one in 10 – were living in poverty in 2011, according to Public Interest Alberta’s report, released Tuesday.That number is declining, said the group’s executive director, Bill Moore-Kilgannon, but about 60 per cent of those children have at least one parent who works full-time, year-round.He’s urging the provincial government to do more toward its promise of ending child poverty in Alberta by 2017 by addressing root causes of poverty in the province, including lack of access to education and low wages for the working poor.“You can’t magically just eliminate child poverty by changing certain policies. You actually have to invest in new programs,” Moore-Kilgannon said.The report’s recommendations – estimated to cost a total of $1 billion annually if implemented – include bringing in a provincial child tax benefit similar to one already in use in Ontario, paying for full-day kindergarten for “vulnerable children” and increasing asset limits to make it possible for those receiving social assistance to earn up to $500 a month.“Only about two per cent of Albertans are actually on social assistance, and certainly with our strong economy, that’s good,” Moore-Kilgannon said, suggesting that fewer social assistance caseloads has freed up $50 million that the province could put back into support programs.The report’s recommendations are achieveable if the province changes its corporate tax structure so that the very rich are paying more taxes, he said.“It’s a billion dollars in recommendations which may sound like a lot, but just a couple of minor things would easily be able to bring in a billion dollars more each year, specifically the main thing we’re asking for is a progressive tax. If we had a progressive tax for the highest tax margin the same as Saskatchewan or British Columbia, we would bring in over a billion dollars easily, just in that one instance alone. It’s not like Alberta’s poor and can’t afford a real poverty reduction strategy. We absolutely can.”Human Services Minister Dave Hancock’s office didn’t respond to an interview request.The province is set to release its poverty reduction strategy next year.In the meantime, many children continue to go to school hungry or without warm clothes. The need is widespread across all grade levels and it’s not because parents aren’t doing their best, said Sheryl Hawkins, co-chair of the poverty intervention committee for Lethbridge’s public school district No. 51. Often, she said, it’s because dollars aren’t stretching as far as they used to, even within two-parent working families.“Parents are having to make some really tough choices and we know that they’re trying and they’re working really hard, so that’s where we’re working equally as hard to help provide. Some of the things that the families can’t always put together, we have some ability to do that through our poverty intervention committee,” such as school breakfast programs, winter coat donations and even providing some high school students with appropriate clothing for work study courses, she said.“However we can find ways to help outfit those students, that is huge because if we can help them get the right skills for their future, it will hopefully help break that cycle that they’re living in right now.”Read the article at the Lethbridge Herald