Ralph Klein has gone and it is time to retire Ralph's World. Thanks to all of you who have supported this venture by contributing material and through your comments. It has been fun.

Should we get another blog underway? Let me know your thoughts by e-mailing me at johnnyslow@gmail.com.

John Slow
January 1, 2007

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Martha is Miffed 

September 2004 Martha’s Monthly

“Martha is Miffed”

Sometimes Martha wonders what she will pay attention to this month. One thing that really caught her eye this month may not seem that big. It’s just a little medallion for the 100th Anniversary of Alberta. What has gotten Martha so upset over a little “feel good” project? Is it the medallion picture? The new Alberta song? Not at all. Her issue is the expenditure of some Million and a half dollars in order to give every school child a medallion and every Albertan over 100 a 14K gold medallion (there are expected to be about 600 people over the age of 100 in the year 2005!). (See: CBC story ) Now Martha is neither against school children nor centenarians, but when a government spends over a million bucks on a medallion and cuts out Widows’ Pensions in the same month, Martha gets a little miffed. And Martha gets a little more miffed when she does the math about Widows’ Pension to discover that $1.5 Million would provide an average of $500 to the approximately 2500 widows and widowers receiving pensions. I don’t know about your kids but Martha looks at her little Dick and Jane and can’t imagine that a medallion will make much of an impact in their lives. (And Martha muses “how long until those medallions are showing up at every garage sale, much like those Thigh Masters or the Petro-Canada Olympic glasses?”) But those 2500 widows could sure use $500. It would make an impact in their lives!

Now Premier Klein and Human Resources and Employment Minister Clint Dunford might wish to counter that Widows’ Pension has not been eliminated entirely but is being integrated into Alberta Works, a one-stop income support program that combines Supports for Independence (Welfare), the Skills Development Program and Widows’ Pension. (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped will remain a separate program) However, Alberta Works is a program in which clients need to be “income-tested” in order to receive, for a single person, $402 per month. So our widow has to prove she is unable to work or must actively look for work (an average of three applications a day is recommended), and do it all on $402 a month. If this strikes you as a little harsh, you would not be alone. In fact, Minister Dunford’s own colleagues in the MLA Committee to Review Low Income Programs thought it too hard as well. They made some startling recommendations after hearing from 6000 Albertans, many of whom received welfare. They concluded that welfare rates are too low and the Alberta government should move to a Market Basket Measure to provide welfare based on the REAL costs of living in Alberta. The report stated that most welfare recipients were not able to find housing for $168/month (the shelter allowance) and therefore used their food money to pay rent. Read the Committee’s reports yourself: What we Heard and What we Recommend. To read more on Market Basket Measures and the controversies about how to quantify poverty read: MBM

On August 19, 2004, Statistics Canada released a report on welfare cases in Canada (Stats Can report) that showed welfare cases, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, are actually down across the country. Some argue this is a result of improved economies. But some anti-poverty activists caution us that it may be more the result of stingier governments that continue to reduce welfare recipient numbers by offering low gain and high pain. Some provinces, like Alberta, have cut their welfare recipient numbers so drastically (by freezing rates at 1993 levels, among other things) that we in Alberta now have the dubious honor of offering the worst place to live in Canada for those who have disabilities and the second worst province to live as a single person on welfare. The National Council of Welfare compared welfare income to the poverty line and showed Alberta’s welfare rates to be staggeringly substandard. A person with a disability will receive from welfare only 39% of the income it would take to bring her to the poverty line. A single woman who is deemed employable would receive only 25% of the income she needs to reach the poverty line. (See: National Council of Welfare)

So when a widow thinks she deserves a Widows’ Pension and not Welfare Martha can see why she might be worried. The Widows’ Pension was created, after all, to provide some assistance to people who lost their spouse, were low-income, and were not old enough to receive federal assistance. There are not many people who fall into that category but here’s what is cause for concern: unattached females in Canada are the most likely to be poor. In fact, in 2002 more than 30% of unattached females under age 65 were low-income earners. (Stats Can on Low Income earners) The Widows’ Pension in Alberta was meant to help with this. Now, in the new system, people who lose their spouse will be asked to prove why they are not able to work in order to receive more than $402/month. (A number we now know places them only a quarter of the way to the Poverty Line).

If you think it is time that the nearly 45,000 welfare recipients in Alberta received a reasonable amount of money, that low-income Widows and Widowers deserve a compassionate program to help with their financial needs, and the Conservative Government needs to start following its own recommendations to increase the welfare rates then please copy the following letter to Mr. Klein. And please send this email on to other concerned Marthas in the province. Our voices are being heard!

For more information about welfare and ways to improve it see the following:

Alberta College of Social Workers


Gender and Poverty report (Sept2004)

Centre for Policy Alternatives

Parkland Institute

Edmonton Social Planning Council

Please copy (add your name/address to the bottom) the following letter and email it to premier@gov.ab.ca. CC it to Kevin Taft, Opposition Leader at Edmonton.Riverview@assembly.ab.ca and Brian Mason, NDP leader at Edmonton.highlands@assembly.ab.ca, and back to us at marthasmonthly@yahoo.ca. We welcome your comments, suggestions, and your research on topics. Please keep them coming.

Premier Ralph Klein
Alberta Legislature
September 8, 2004

Dear Premier Klein:

As you may remember, the 8th of the month is the day you receive a letter from the Marthas of the province who have something to tell you about life here. This month we are glad to see school start again and watch harvest moons. We are not so pleased, though, when we read your Governments press releases about Low Income Programs.

Life in Alberta is very hard on some of our sisters and brothers. It is particularly hard on low-income widows/ers under the age of 65. We are concerned that the Widows' Pension has been subsumed under Alberta Works, a program that requires widows to meet welfare eligibility rules. Life in Alberta is very hard for those people who require welfare as the amount they receive from their government gets them less than half way to the poverty line.

See Mr. Klein, what concerns us most about this is that welfare rates in this province are just too low. That is what your own MLA Committee to Review Low Income Programs stated in their report. By only implementing one recommendation of the Committee, to amalgamate Widows' Pension into the Alberta Works Program, you are punishing those women who have worked hard within their homes to care for their families. Now they face life alone where they are forced to re-enter the workplace, often without adequate training or "work experience," precisely because they were at home caring for their families. Their alternative is to rely upon the dismally low rates of Widows' Pension, and to "prove" their eligibility for this small sum. They know, as we Marthas know, that being unattached in Canada makes you more likely to be poor. We stand with our sisters and say that in a province as rich in resource revenues as ours, adequate funding for the Widows’ Pension, Welfare, and AISH should be your government’s top priority.

Please make welfare a compassionate and livable income by following the recommendations of the MLA Committee and many others who have called on you to increase welfare rates and index them to the cost of living. We ask too that Widows' Pensions be returned to a universal benefit which recognizes women's years of work and contribution to society by caring for their families, that is compassionate toward their loss, and that therefore does not require widows to meet the strict and punitive eligibility standards that are set our by the Alberta Works Program.


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