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Opinion: Beefed up child benefits are a poverty game changer

John Kolkman | Edmonton Journal | Published on: June 7, 2016 | Last Updated: June 7, 2016 11:45 PM MDT

Viewed through a social policy lens, the biggest story coming out of the federal and provincial budgets were the enhancements to child benefits.

Starting in July, an Alberta family with two children making $30,000 annually will receive $4,300 more per year from the federal and provincial governments. These improvements are child poverty game changers.

The launch of a new Alberta Child Benefit and increases in federal child benefits, both on July 1, go some distance toward guaranteeing a basic income to all Alberta families with children.

Non-taxable child benefits are the most effective way to reduce poverty because they put money directly into the pockets of low-income families.

Low-income working families receive the same amount as those on government income support at the same level of income. Administrative costs are negligible. Amounts are calculated by the Canadian Revenue Agency from tax returns. This makes it more important than ever for all low-income families to file tax returns regardless of whether they pay tax or not.

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Affordable housing, transit access part of Edmonton plan to lift 10,000 families out of poverty in five years

Elise Stolte | Edmonton Journal

Published on: May 20, 2016 | Last Updated: May 20, 2016 10:58 AM MDT

Edmonton’s plan for dealing with poverty was released Thursday with a list of 35 projects and a focus on the working poor.

The city-sponsored task force is hoping better transit access, affordable child care, secure housing and more awareness of racism will lift 10,000 families out of poverty in the next five years. It means reducing stress and giving security to those families currently working two or three jobs and still struggling to pay for food, rent and child care.

“Poverty is quiet, invisible, but it’s affecting kids,” said Anglican Bishop Jane Alexander, co-chair of the task force EndPoverty Edmonton.

The Edmonton Social Planning Council found more than 100,000 people in Edmonton were living in poverty in January 2015. Fifty-nine per cent of the children living in poverty belong to families where one or both parents are working full time. 

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Resource revenue the 'crack cocaine of public finances,' University of Alberta panel told


Experts agree Alberta’s economy has seen better days. Where opinions differ is how to change it and whether a sales tax is unavoidable.

A panel discussion Thursday at the University of Alberta, including experts from education, social programs and the business community, examined what the province needs to do to rebound.

John Kolkman of the Edmonton Social Planning Council said the budget has a lot of positive elements for people on low incomes. He said savings could be found by easing off on carbon levies, if only for those same low-income earners.

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Helping out impoverished children

Kevin Hampson

The Alberta government should raise more dollars in taxes in order to support impoverished children, argues Joel French, keynote speaker at the Alberta Teachers' Association's Well-Being of Children and Youth Conference, held Friday in Grande Prairie.

Nearly one in six Alberta children are living in poverty, said French, who is the executive director of Public Interest Alberta (PIA), an advocacy group.

"Alberta needs more tax revenue," French said, adding that the province could raise $14 billion more by adopting a tax system similar to other provinces-including a sales tax. This could fund various government initiatives supported by PIA, such as tax-payer-subsidized housing, a provincial day care system and increased welfare benefits.

French presented findings from a recent child poverty report, produced by PIA in partnership with The Edmonton Social Planning Council and the Alberta College of Social Workers. The report uses the After-Tax Low-Income Measure, which considers families to be poor if their income is less than 50% of the median income for all households.

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Any repurposing of the building would mean “large costs and careful conversation.”

By: Samantha Power/For Metro Published on Wed Mar 30 2016
The future of the Edmonton Remand Centre remains a question three years after being emptied in favour of a new facility in the north end.

After Qualico Vice President Ken Cantor proposed it be turned into a campus for Centre High, an arts space or a hospice, Procura president George Schluessel has suggested it could serve as affordable housing. But that could not happen without large costs and careful conversation.

“I never would have guessed it could be renovated in any economical fashion,” said John Kolkman research coordinator with the Edmonton Social Planning Council and a resident of the community. Kolkman says costs associated to create self contained housing including individual kitchens and bath, as well as opening up the window spaces, for independent living could be substantial.

And recurring conversation on concentration of low income housing would also be brought up.  

“The stigma is not an issue for housing advocates,” said Kolkman. “But the concentration of affordable housing has been brought up as an issue in the past.”