© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty
ALERT angry over province’s decision not to spend surplus on Islanders on social assistance
An anti-poverty group on P.E.I. says it isn’t interested in any more lip service from Community Services Minister Valerie Docherty.
ALERT, which was established in 1980 to lobby government on behalf of Islanders on social assistance, announced Tuesday that it has cancelled a meeting this week with Docherty.
“We are putting them on notice that until ALERT feels the minister and her government are working on concrete solutions that deal with the poverty people on social assistance continue to face we are not interested in any more lip-service meetings,’’ ALERT member Edith Perry said.
ALERT members are upset that the provincial government left $2.3 million unspent in social assistance and other support payments last year and cut its budget this year for social programs by close to $2 million.
It put Docherty on the hot seat at the P.E.I. legislature earlier this month.
“The fact that we have been meeting with government after government, minister after minister, for so many years only to have these kinds of decisions made makes us feel that we are not listened to,’’ said Kat Murphy, another member of ALERT.
Docherty told The Guardian on Tuesday that she was scheduled to meet with Perry and the group later this week in a meeting that had already been rescheduled twice before due to snowstorms.
“It would have been really good to have sat down with her to inform her of (our plan),’’ Docherty said following question period in the legislature.
The plan she refers to is a new five-year food cost program that will be rolled out later this year, tying future food rates to inflation. The minister has said the increase will be worth $850,000 this year.
Docherty explained that she would have explained the program to ALERT’s members, asked for feedback and explained that there are only so many dollars to go around.
“It’s unfortunate,’’ the minister said of ALERT’s decision to cancel the meeting.
Docherty said last week that government raised food rates in 2008-09, the first time they’ve been raised in a decade.
“We could have had those conversations and now we’re not (going to). I think that’s unfortunate.’’
Perry says government simply isn’t seeing the connection between diet, good health and income levels.
“Something has to be done now, not over the next several years,’’ the ALERT member said.
Over the years, ALERT has called for food costing and shelter rates be increased to reflect the cost of living increases and that the personal income tax exemption level be raised. They’ve also called for other changes to be made to the act and regulations that would significantly improve the lives and health of people on social assistance.
“Government’s responses have been that there is no money, yet here we are with a major surplus not spent to make poor people on social assistance eat better and the intention to spend even less this coming year.’’
Murphy said until they see “real movement’’ from the province ALERT will not be meeting with the minister in the immediate future.
Docherty said they simply can’t meet all of the needs and wants from every group.
“We appreciate getting their feedback (in meetings). Anybody who has an opportunity to lobby the government should always take advantage of it (but) that’s their choice,’’ Docherty said of the decision to cancel the meeting.