Sask. advocate says 3 per cent increase for SIS, SAID ‘virtually nothing’

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Peter Gilmer of the Anti-Poverty Ministry in the Knox-Metropolitan United Church offices on Feb. 6, 2024 in Regina.

” … three per cent of what’s already so woefully low and inadequate is virtually nothing,” says Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry’s Peter Gilmer.

Alec Salloum, Regina Leader-Post

More money is coming for clients on Saskatchewan’s social assistance programs but for people already struggling many advocates wonder if it will be enough.

Announced Wednesday, the 2024-25 budget revealed a planned three-per-cent increase to the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) and the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) programs, which will result in a monthly bump of $60 and $55 dollars respectively.

“For people who are forced to live on SIS and SAID, three per cent is far from adequate because three per cent of what’s already so woefully low and inadequate is virtually nothing,” said Peter Gilmer with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry in an interview Wednesday.

As of May 2023, a single adult on SIS living in Regina would see baseline monthly pay of $975 from the shelter benefit, which covers shelter expenses, and the basic benefit which covers food, clothing, travel, personal and household items before other unique benefits.

SIS and SAID payments have increased two years in a row, and with this latest increase “we to hope help vulnerable people out there who are on our core income assistance programs,” Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky said Wednesday.

He knows there are inflationary pressures, and hopes additional programming and exemptions will assist clients, he added.

Meara Conway, Opposition social services critic, said she still needed to review the figures presented in the budget, but said calling it a modest increase, is a “generous” description.

“I’m a little worried about smoke and mirrors because I did some basic math around the number of beneficiaries on each program and the amount they are saying it is going to increase by, and the allotments fall well short,” she said.

Her concern is an underfunded social assistance program will see clients “trapped in poverty cycles.”

Gilmer has long spoken about how these rates are insufficient, especially during a period of low rental vacancy and increased grocery costs. Randy Goulden, president of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA), has also spoken about the rates available for SIS and SAID clients, saying it has led to an increased rate of homelessness across the province.

“SUMA has been advocating for an increase in this program because we know that it’s not sustainable for people that are below the poverty line,” said Goulden. As for the increase in the budget, she said it’s not enough, that people in poverty will continue to experience it with little help from an extra two dollars a day. “The system just continues,’ she said.

In the budget, the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation has been allocated $83 million for the “repair and maintenance of provincially owned housing units to provide affordable rental options.” Gilmer said there are people right here and now that need housing and the province has the capacity to house them.

“We’re still dealing with 3,000 vacant units across the province, 700 in the City of Regina alone, at a time where we’ve got low vacancy rates too,” Gilmer said.

Makowsky argued many clients are simply not able to move into non-supportive housing, but at the same time said “we want to be able to use those units as best as we can.”

“It signals to us that they at least acknowledge that this is an issue which is a shift,” Conway said of the money earmarked for repairs and renovations.