by: Jason Van Rassel, Calgary Herald

The provincial government’s pledge to eliminate child poverty is being put to the test in a report out Tuesday that recommends an additional $1 billion in program spending aimed at helping the working poor.

Statistics published by Public Interest Alberta estimate there were 84,000 children living in poverty in Alberta in 2011, the last year for which data are available.

The number is actually down from 91,000 the year before, but one of the study’s authors said the reduction has more to do with an overall improvement in the economy than any action by the provincial government.

“You can’t eliminate child poverty in this province without actually investing,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta, which put together the report with the Alberta College of Social Workers and the Edmonton Social Planning Council.

Having a job isn’t a panacea for poverty, Moore-Kilgannon said, because so many among Alberta’s poor have jobs.

Statistics Canada data from 2011 estimated nearly 60 per cent of children in poverty lived in a household where one or more adults was working full time for the entire year.

“The reality for people is poverty is a divorce away, poverty is a workplace accident away,” Moore-Kilgannon sad.

The report arrived at its poverty numbers using a benchmark called the low income measure after tax. Under that standard, a family of four earning approximately $40,000 or less in Alberta, after taxes, would be considered poor. A single person would make less than $20,000.

A key recommendation of the report is the introduction of a provincial child tax benefit. A monthly benefit of $1,200 per child, which could be adjusted according to a family’s level of need, would cost approximately $200 million, Moore-Kilgannon said.

The recommendation could be implemented relatively cheaply, Moore-Kilgannon added, by distributing it monthly to coincide with the federal child tax benefit.

“That would keep administrative costs low,” he said.

The report also recommends raising Alberta’s minimum wage from the current $9.95 – the lowest in Canada – to $13 an hour with benefits or $14,50 [sic] without.

Premier Alison Redford promised in the 2012 election campaign to eliminate child poverty by 2017 and it’s time for the government to begin delivering, Moore-Kilgannon said.

The provincial government is currently running a deficit that it estimates between $1.2 and $2 billion, but Moore-Kilgannon said the changes recommended in his report are affordable with changes to the province’s tax regime.

“There are ways, very clearly, we can pay for it,” he said.

The report advocates scrapping the province’s flat personal income tax rate of 10 per cent in favour of a progressive regime that would tax high-income earners at a higher rate.

Adopting Saskatchewan’s 15 per cent tax rate for all personal income over $122,589 would net the provincial government more than $1 billion in additional revenue, the report says.

Bringing in B.C.’s personal income tax rate of 14.7 per cent on all income over $104,754 would bring the province even more, the report adds.

Using that added revenue to pay for the social spending recommended by the report would be a concrete step toward lifting people out of poverty — and cutting the long-term costs to society, Moore-Kilgannon said.

The government is slated to release its poverty reduction plan early next year.

“We want to see real action – not just words,” Moore-Kilgannon said.

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