As part of efforts to offset the high cost of living in the territory, the GNWT is expanding benefits for seniors, students and single people who get income assistance.
Starting April 1, single residents who receive income assistance will be eligible for the same rent subsidy as a person with dependents.
Right now, rent subsidies for eligible single people are capped at $900 a month.
There is no explicit limit on rent subsidies for people with dependents who get income assistance.
However, this doesn’t mean that eligible people can live anywhere and have rent covered.
Income assistance policies “ensure clients are appropriately housed in reasonable rental accommodations,” Andy Bevan, assistant deputy minister of Education Culture and Employment, stated in an email Friday.
George Lessard, a Yellowknife resident who previously received rent assistance, said a cap that applies solely to single people is discriminatory.
Lessard said the government believed single people could “just get rooms” in a shared house or apartment and therefore didn’t need assistance to cover the cost of their homes.
“All single people with no dependents were capped. That’s discrimination based on family status,” he said.
Lessard offered an example: “You’re by yourself, you’re working here in town, you have a car accident, suddenly you can’t work, you have no income.”
“Now, while you’re recovering from your accident, you won’t be forced to move out of your apartment because you don’t have any money to pay rent.”
After decades of treating single people differently, said Lessard, the government has finally decided to make the system “fair, even, the same, non-discriminatory.”
The government is also expanding the Senior Home Heating Subsidy, which helps seniors living on low-to-modest incomes pay the high cost of heating.
Income limits for eligibility will be raised and the program will be extended to seniors who rent and pay for heat in addition to rent.
The home heating subsidy used to be payed out in the form of wood, oil, propane, gas or electricity, depending on how residents heated their homes.
As of April 1, eligible seniors will get a cheque instead.
More than 500 seniors get the home heating subsidy. With the changes, wrote Bevan, “we believe that more than 300 seniors will be positively impacted.”
Some students also stand to gain from upcoming changes to income security benefits.
The department is offering students with dependents who attend approved schools a second opportunity to visit home each academic year.
Starting in September, students with dependents will be eligible for two return trips per year between their home community and the nearest school that offers their program.
The territorial government proposed spending an additional $2.4 million in the 2018-19 budget on income assistance to account for a larger number of residents in need.