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AISH changes leave some scrambling

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

A Hinton resident was caught off guard when she found out the Alberta government was changing the date for when her Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) payment would arrive next month.

As of March, the date of every monthly provincial AISH and Income Support (IS) payment will be released on the first of the month instead of coming at least more than two days prior to the next month.

Jane Dresden explained that her rent is due and payable on the first of each month, as well as numerous other bills, but banks often require time to process direct deposits.

This means that despite payments being made on the first, they might not appear in Dresden’s account at that time and this makes it critical for payments to be released earlier.

The Mobile Home Site Tenancies Act, states that a “tenancy month” begins on the day on which rent is payable but this not necessarily a calendar month and can be otherwise specifically agreed on by the landlord and the tenant. After speaking with her mobile home park owners, Dresden said her rent is still due on the first of the month.

AISH payments were also cut through de-indexing them from inflation in the Alberta October 2019 budget, forcing some clients to make some spending adjustments.

Dresden stated she hasn’t received any cost of living increase since she started AISH four years ago, and her AISH payments don’t cover her medication or service dog.

She is unsure how she will pay all her bills and manage to put enough money aside to keep up with her vet bills, dog food bills, and service dog registration payments.

Dresden raised her concern with MLA Martin Long and the social services ministry.

Spokesperson for Community and Social Services, Diane Carter, said AISH and Income Support recipients will receive their payments on or before the first of the month on the new schedule, compared to the prior schedule, which could vary widely month to month. 

“The change in payment dates does not alter the amount government provides to clients each month. No payments will be missed due to the payment date moving to the first of the month. Ninety seven per cent of recipients are signed up for direct deposit and will receive payments directly. Recipients who experience hardship because of the change may be able to access emergency funds. Case workers are able to help recipients move bill payments to the new dates or sign up for direct deposit if they need help,” Carter said.

The government notice stated that when the first of the month is a holiday or weekend, benefits will be paid on the last business day of the previous month. For example, March 1 falls on a Sunday, thus the direct deposit and mailing date will occur on Friday, Feb. 28.

Dresden claimed that if account withdrawals to pay bills occur without having the proper funds, nonsufficient funds (NSF) charges will appear and late fees from rental companies may be applied.

“You the account holder will have bad credit rating and will be out as much as 125 dollars for NSF fees and late charges no one can afford,” she said.

Having an account in NSF more than once in a short period of time can be grounds for eviction due to inconsistent rent payments, added Dresden, who is a former paralegal and landlord. Eviction means moving her trailer with money that she doesn’t have, which means she would likely lose her trailer.

The government notice also suggested planning ahead and adjusting the timing of monthly bill payments if needed, contacting caseworkers to discuss the situation, or signing up for direct deposit for faster benefits.

“It’s something that the ministry has decided to move ahead with in order to make everything succinct with how the payments are distributed. In that they actually have reached out to people to ensure they have the support necessary. Although it’s subtle in how the change is, they do understand that some people will possibly have an issue with it moving forward,” said MLA, Martin Long.

He added that affected individuals would be contacted and given options for local support.

Dresden stated that nobody reached out or notified her of support services. Not only do her rent payments come out on the first of the month, insurance and other payments are also due around the same time.

Dresden is frustrated with her given budget which she calls overstretched and unrealistic.

“When you are dealing with an already challenged disabled community, you can not expect them to be able to just get out and go to the bank the day you decide to enter funds to an account,” she said.

She explained that when payments were being made previously three or four days before the next month, people who use special transit, have wheelchairs, or are on medication schedules, received a bit of a grace period to organize their finances at the bank. She calls the decision reprehensible and irresponsible and something that doesn’t align with clients payments.