Nova Scotia government announces rate indexing for people on income assistance

By Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservative government made an unexpected announcement Wednesday that it will index income assistance payments to keep up with inflation.

Community Services Minister Brendan Maguire spoke to a change he had pushed for while a member of the Opposition Liberals. Maguire crossed the floor to join the government benches late last month.

“It’s an emotional day for me, and I think it’s a great day for people on income assistance,” Maguire told reporters.

The minister said the rate change — the first in three years — will be tied to the consumer price index and will rise by 2.5 per cent in the 2024-25 fiscal year. The change is to be implemented on July 1 with payments retroactive to April 1.

Maguire said it will mean an increase of about $35 a month for people living on low incomes. The $7-million cost of the indexing will come from funds already allocated to his department in the 2024-25 budget, he said.

“This is going to help in a small way,” said Maguire. “I know there’s more to do.”

The government’s move came as a surprise because it was not announced as part of the budget that was introduced on Feb. 29. The budget passed through the legislature’s estimates process on Tuesday and contains indexing for income tax brackets and a new $300 monthly disability payment for those on income assistance who can’t work.

Premier Tim Houston said the policy decision was accepted by the government only in the “past couple of days” but he added that the idea had been under discussion for some time. “It was something that was targeted a little further out (in time) but we were able to move it quicker,” Houston said.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill called the government’s move a “good thing” and one his party has been calling for since the Tories came to power in 2021.

“It’s too bad the government has waited to this point when inflation has actually gone down to do it,” said Churchill. “We don’t know why it wasn’t in the budget, but at the end of the day we want to see this happen.”

NDP Leader Claudia Chender noted that her party had been pushing for indexation since the time of the previous Liberal government.

“But it bears pointing out that income assistance recipients are still living well below the poverty line … it (indexing) is still not enough,” she said.

Maguire said funding the change would not affect existing programs in his department and added the next step is to consult with experts and those receiving assistance about further steps to “break the cycle of poverty.”

According to the province there were 23,665 income assistance recipients in the province as of Feb. 1.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2024.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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