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by: Jody Sinnema (Edmonton Journal)

EDMONTON - A new report written by two advocacy groups says changes to Alberta's tax regime could bring in an additional $1.2 billion to $2 billion to fight child poverty while still keeping the province the lowest tax regime in Canada.

Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said if the province is to keep its promise to end child poverty by 2017, it must come up with detailed calculations on how it will be done, such as the ones in Moore-Kilgannon's report From Words to Actions.

The report, co-authored by John Kolkman of the Edmonton Social Planning Council, said the province can earn up to $2 billion more each year by increasing corporate taxes to 1990s levels and increasing income tax on people earning $150,000 or more. If the provincial corporate income tax rate was increased to 12 per cent - which is equivalent to Saskatchewan's rate, up from the current 10 per cent, and still lower than the 15.5-per-cent rate in the 1990s in Alberta - the province would bring in $1 billion more, reads the report, to be officially released Tuesday at the Bissell Centre.

If individuals earning $150,000 or more were taxed at 14 per cent, instead of the current 10 per cent, Alberta would raise an additional $700 million. That gets bumped up to $1 billion if Alberta mirrored Saskatchewan, where everyone earning more than $122,589 gets taxed at 15 per cent.

All of that money could help families in poverty by:

- Implementing a new Alberta Child Benefit of $1,200 per child (value: $200 million);

- Introducing full-day kindergarten for vulnerable children (value: $100 million), and;

- Implementing a living wage for contracted services (value: $150 million). The report says increasing minimum wages to $13 per hour with benefits or $14.50 without - up from the current $9.95 per hour, the lowest in Canada - would cost the government nothing.

"The premier made a promise in the heat of the last provincial election to eliminate child poverty by 2017," Moore-Kilgannon said. "We are quite concerned about the government's poverty reduction strategy not being substantive enough to have a serious impact on achieving the premier’s promise."

When the government released the 2013 budget in February, Premier Alison Redford said there would be no new taxes this year, and rejected a sales tax. Moore-Kilgannon said the government has told him its poverty-reduction strategy will be released in spring 2014.

"The government is putting themselves in a box when they say they won't address the revenue problem," Moore-Kilgannon said. "By their own admission, the next closest tax jurisdiction to Alberta is British Columbia. If we had the same tax structure as them and I'm not arguing for that we would bring in close to $11 billion. It's not as if they don't have options."

About one in every 10 children - or about 84,000 Albertan kids - were living below the low-income measure poverty line in 2011. The report notes that 28 per cent were in homes led by single mothers and 60 per cent lived in homes where one or more persons work full-time the entire year.

"There's this notion that, 'Oh, there's nothing we can do,' " Moore-Kilgannon said, referring to deficit budgets and provincial debt that has been accompanied by government cutbacks. "Alberta can absolutely afford a real poverty reduction strategy."

Recommendations to reduce child poverty:

$200 million to create new Alberta Child Benefit of $1,200 per child.

$50 million to index Alberta Works and Assured Income for Severely Handicapped subsidies to changes in living costs. Also allow recipients to earn $500 per month before clawbacks.

$150 million to implement living wage for contracted services.

$75 million to enhance working income tax benefits.

$100 million in additional affordable housing investment.

$50 million to fully fund rent supplements.

$100 million to introduce full-day kindergarten for vulnerable children

$100 million investment in child care, early childhood development and child protection.

$100 million to reduce class sizes and increase access to post-secondary institutions.

$50 million to improve bursaries for low-income post-secondary students.

$25 million to increase support for Family and Community Support Services.

TOTAL: $1 billion in additional yearly investment

by:  Sheila Pratt

EDMONTON - Edmonton is losing the battle against obesity among teenagers while a whopping two-thirds of families don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, says a report released Tuesday.

The city's rate of overweight and obese youth is rising, as it is across the country, said Dr. Christopher Sikora, Edmonton's chief medical officer of health, on Tuesday.

Though Edmonton incomes are generally higher than in the rest of Canada ($57,200 median income compared with $50,700 nationally), that extra cash is not necessarily being spent by families on healthy food, according to the report Vital Signs, which offers a snapshot of community health and economic indicators. It was released by the Edmonton Social Planning Council and the Edmonton Community Foundation.

Only 36 per cent of Edmontonians managed to eat their five daily servings of fruit and vegetables - less than the national average of 40 per cent, says the report.

Sikora said the rising rate of obese and overweight children means many young people are heading for health problems as adults.

The city needs a strategy that tackles both problems - getting people more active and reducing "over consumption" of unhealthy food, he said.

"People need 30 to 60 minutes of activity, and children even more, and sadly they aren't getting it," he said.

Poor nutrition is also connected to higher rates of diabetes in the Edmonton area - 5.6 per cent compared with the provincial rate of 5.27 per cent, said the report.

Lack of access to enough healthy food (called food insecurity) is a problem among low-income earners, who are often renters and may also have little education. About 35 per cent of single-parent families in Edmonton experienced food insecurity in 2012, the report said.

Coun. Amarjeet Sohi said the city has been trying to build more walkable communities to encourage less reliance on cars and more physical activity, but mostly, it isn't working.

"I’ve noticed there's an issue of major traffic jams at schools even in new communities because everyone drives, even though they could walk," said Sohi, who attended the report's release along with food advocacy groups.

"It's a cultural thing that happens. Maybe people are too busy, or have no time," he said.

The community needs to address an activity gap in a city that relies heavily on organized sports to keep kids active. Middle-class families can afford fees for hockey, soccer and other sports that are out of reach for low-income families.

To combat the growing issue of food insecurity and its related health problems, the Edmonton Community Foundation announced it will award new grants of $100,000 for each of the next three years to community groups that are willing to address these issues.

Meanwhile, a new coalition of health advocates is lobbying on a variety of fronts, including to get junk food out of city recreation centres, to tax sugar-sweetened drinks, to convince school cafeterias to reduce servings of french fries and to restrict advertising of unhealthy sweetened food to children.

"These measures are aimed at prevention" of obesity, which can lead to other chronic diseases, said Kayla Atkey, of the Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention.

Meanwhile, the social planning council's annual report on income, rents and other economic factors reinforced the message that food security is a major issue and is connected to poverty, said researcher John Kolkman.

While Edmonton's economy had a strong recovery from the 2008 crash, and boasts high employment, there are still thousands of people stuck in low-paying jobs, he said.

About 128,900 people earn wages of $15 an hour or less, he said.

On the positive front, Edmonton also recorded a substantial reduction in homelessness (down by 29 per cent from 2008) thanks to a provincially funded 10-year plan to end homelessness, said Kolkman.

"That's a positive indicator, but data on the rental market gives me pause," he said.

The rental market today is already at a very tight 1.2-per-cent vacancy rate - a rate last seen in 2006 at the height of the boom, when rents jumped by 20 per cent, Kolkman said.

That tight rental market could make more people homeless, and will also eat into the incomes of many families, he said.

by:  Katherine Griwkowsky

The Edmonton Community Foundation will be giving up to $100,000 per year for three years to registered charities that come up with solutions for food insecurity.

Vital Signs reports were conducted across the country by community foundations in 26 municipalities, including Edmonton. The Food Security report in Edmonton was a joint effort between the Edmonton Community Foundation and the Edmonton Social Planning Council.

Carol Watson, spokeswoman for the Edmonton foundation, says the money will help give more structure to the volunteer-based effort.

Edmonton's report, released Tuesday, shows groceries in Edmonton have steadily climbed in price, from $133 per week for a family of four to $210 per week in 2013 -- an increase more than double the inflation rate.

"It's expensive to live in Edmonton," she said. "Poverty and food security are so intertwined."

Registered charities can apply for funding.

In Edmonton, youth obesity is increasing, while fruit and vegetable consumption is declining. In 2012, 36% of Edmontonians ate the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables compared to 40% in Canada, according to the local report.

Youth obesity was 29.9% in 2012, up from 18.5% in 2005.

Christine McVea, program manager at WeCan, says her food buying society helps bring food to low-income people.

McVea said people buy fruit, veggies and meats from WeCan at the beginning of the month and receive the packages in the third week of the month.

"It's a surprise; we try to buy what's in season," she said, adding her group tries to buy Albertan or Canadian products whenever possible.

Marjorie Bencz, executive director of Edmonton's Food Bank, likes that the report looks not only at food-security related problems like diabetes and obesity. She said food security is important to all of Edmonton, not just those with low-income.

Gail Hall, a local chef, started paying closer attention to food after a diagnosis of breast cancer meant she had to watch out for foods that convert to estrogen.

As a chef, for example, she says there is a taste difference between locally-grown, heirloom tomatoes and ones grown in the U.S. for their ability to withstand shipping.

Edmonton is getting better at water use, with the lowest residential use in the six largest cities.

The average Edmontonian uses 144 litres per day, compared to 226 litres in Calgary

 

by: Slav Kornik

Edmonton - A new report shows about 12 per cent of Albertans can't afford healthy and nutritious food.

"That's really what we're concerned about. We know there's a problem," says John Kolkman, Research Coordinator with the Edmonton Planning Council.

"Vital Signs Edmonton - a report on food security" has been released by the Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) and the Edmonton Social Planning Council (ESPC). The focus of the report is how to help more people have access to health and nutritious food.

According to the study, the average family of four spends $210 per week on healthy and nutritious food or over $800 per month. Kolkman says families on a limited income are left with a decision to make.

"People have to pay their rent, have to pay their utilities or they're going to end up homeless and it's food where they often shortchange themselves simply because they can't afford to purchase healthy nutritious food."

Kolkman says initiatives like the Food Bank, community gardens, farmers markets, and meal programs in schools can help to reduce the problem.

According to "Vital Signs," one in five workers in metro Edmonton earns $15 an hour or less.

The ESPC has also released the 2013 edition of "Tracking the Trends." The report provides detailed analysis of social and economic trends in Edmonton.

Kolkman says "Tracking the Trends" shows the city's economy has recovered from the 2009 recession, but it has benefitted those with the highest income the most.

Kolkman points out several concerning trends the report identifies:

  • Between 1990 and 2010, the share of the top one per cent of Edmonton income earners rose by almost three percentage points to 8.9% after tax
  • 39,000 children living in poverty in the metro Edmonton area in 2011, more than double the 16,000 in 2006
  • A record 59.2 per cent of poor children live in families where at least one parent works full-time for the full-year
  • While homelessness is down 29.4 per cent over all age categories since 2008, there was a 68 per cent increase in the number of homeless youth in 2012
  • A 1.2 per cent rental vacancy rate in April 2013, tied with 2006 as the lowest on record. Rent is up 4.2 per cent compared to a year earlier

Kolkman points out the "Tracking the Trends" isn't all "doom and gloom." He says the report has also found positive trends, like strong employment growth (the number of employed Edmontonians has increased by 31.5 per cent between 2002 and 2012 according to the report), women are narrowing the earnings gap with men, and the report shows the number of people receiving social assistance, employment insurance and food bank use has dropped.


Global Morning News Edmonton - July 31 2013

"A proposed transitional housing development in Terwillegar Towne has stirred controversy. John Kolkman, with the Edmonton Social Planning Council, has looked into the project and is here to talk about it.

Watch the video here.