The annual HungerCount survey to monitor foodbank usage was recently released, and the results show Albertans are needing food banks the most out of every other province in the country.
The survey works by monitoring data and usage during a specific time period, and drawing conclusions from that. In this case, it was March 2022. Compared to last year, Albertans have seen a 34% increase in food bank access. Of the people using foodbanks, 45% were children (around 58 000 children), while 1/5 were employed.
Press Secretary Hunter Baril from the Office of the Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services said in a written response that the UCP government has taken steps in the past to try and address this problem.
"Our government recognizes the important role food banks and volunteers play in communities throughout all of our province, and I would like to thank them for what they do. We were the first to provide food banks with financial aid during the pandemic. $6 million was used to feed thousands of Alberta families," he said.
When asked if the government would take any further action now to address the issue, Baril declined further comment, but said in a separate statement that the UCP is calling on the Federal Government to take action.
"This inflationary crisis is not limited to our province alone. All Canadians are facing higher costs of living, which is why our provincial government has tirelessly called on the Federal Government to take action as well. Steps can be taken by the Federal Government to lower everyday costs by simply removing their carbon tax.”
This response didn't sit well with NDP Critic for Community and Social Services Marie Renaud, who feels that the UCP too often shifts blame to other parties like the Federal Government, even though they could also take action on their own.
"I think Ottawa can always be doing more to help all Canadian families. However, I think it's disingenuous for this UCP government to continuously point their fingers at Ottawa when they have responsibility for the well-being of Albertans here at home. There are some very clear steps that they can take right now, that they could have taken over the last three years. We've asked them to take them year after year, we've repeatedly asked them to do these things and pointed out that things are getting worse for people, so they know that they have tools in their toolbox that they can use today to fix things. They're choosing not to do that, and instead they're doing what they normally do: blame it on someone else. 'This is Ottawa, this isn't us,'" Renaud said.
As for what the government could be doing, Renaud says addressing the root causes of poverty is how you lower foodbank usage rate. While putting money into foodbanks directly offers a temporary solution, Renaud said a temporary solution isn't enough. She added that there is also a critical problem in the way the UCP have handled the foodbank issue so far, as she says the UCP looks at foodbanks like a solution to poverty, while she believes foodbanks should instead be viewed as "an emergency safety net". Rather than put more money into foodbanks as a way to address poverty, Renaud says this money and effort need to be put to use other ways.
"(They should) immediately re-index all benefits. So re-index AISH, re-index income support and the seniors' benefit. That means well over 100 000 really low income Albertans will immediately have access to additional funds to buy food. That is step one. The next thing they could immediately do is look at re-installing a cap on insurance, on utilities, to combat some of the rising prices. Those are some of the things that are contributing to inflation which has really become unmanageable. I think by immediately doing some really basic first steps they could start to bring those numbers down."
She added the UCP government was the one to cut these benefits in 2019, and when former Premier Jason Kenney was asked when these benefits would come back, he said they would bring it back once things improve financially. Renaud believes the time to act is now, as our economy has seen incredible growth recently.
"I don't know how much more things have to improve, but we have a $13 billion projected surplus. How much more do they want before they look at some of the poorest people in the province that are barely scraping by? They're having to use food banks, their kids are going hungry, and this isn't enough to cause them to stop and fix the damage that they caused years ago? It's sad, it's pathetic actually."