A heavily-criticized change in when Albertans receive their monthly Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped and Income Support program payments will be reversed starting this March, the government announced Friday.
Alberta's governing United Conservative Party, under former premier Jason Kenney, moved the payments to the first day of the month in April 2020.
The change was made to provide "consistency and predictability" in the schedule and to help people budget, Rajan Sawhney, the minister in charge of AISH, said at the time.
But the move caused problems for AISH recipients. In March 2020, they were forced to make their payments — which were then $1,685 a month for a single person — last a few more days.
Recipients were then charged late fees because they were unable to make rent payments on time. Some couldn't buy low-income bus passes in advance.
People who receive AISH will now get their payments four days before the end of the month, the way it used to be prior to the change four years ago.
Auditor general called out government
St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud, the NDP critic for Community Social Services, and Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips, then the chair of the public accounts committee, requested the auditor general look into the matter.
The subsequent investigation found the government used the date change to make its 2019-20 balance sheet look better by moving $152 million in program costs to the next fiscal year.
The auditor general said recording 11 months of program costs in a fiscal year was a violation of public sector accounting standards.
The government was forced to fix its consolidated financial statements for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
The ministry of Community and Social Services ended up being $120 million over budget that year.
Renaud said the date change came after the Kenney government temporarily suspended cost-of-living increases for AISH payments, a decision that was only reversed in late 2022.
Monthly payments for a single person on AISH are $1,863 as of Jan. 1, 2024.
Keri McEachern, advocacy director with the Self Advocacy Federation in Edmonton, said the 2020 date change caused a lot of financial heartache for members. Some who missed a rent payment, for example, were charged an additional fee that they couldn't afford, McEachern said.
McEachern said they are relieved the government is returning to the old schedule.
"It takes a big stress off of your mind when you know how much money you've got on the 31st, when bills are coming out on the first," she said. "You're not having to … take your bottles in just to cover that $20 that might come out."
Renaud said she was dismayed to see Seniors, Community and Social Services Minster Jason Nixon taking credit for the date change in a news release Friday.
"They created this problem. They caused the hardship. Now they're trying to spin it that they're heroes," she said.
"I'm happy that they corrected the mistakes that they made, but I'm not giving them any credit whatsoever."