|Common Front for Social Justice|
For immediate publication
September 12, 2008
''People at the lower end of the income scale in New Brunswick had nothing to rejoice about today when they heard that their government was scrapping the heating rebate, in the form of $100 one-time payments, that it gavel to low income citizens,'' says Linda McCausltin, co-chair of the NB Common Front for Social Justice.
In an interview today with Radio-Canada, Minister of Finance Victor Boudreau played down the termination of the government program, saying that it had a definite duration and that it was due to being phased out anyway.
He said the program will be replaced in due time by another one, without stating whether or not it will be at the same level of the present one nor when it would be announced. However, knowing that the provincial government is reviewing its programs in order to cut them back, it would be surprising if it came out with a more generous one. In the January 16, 2007, Victor Boudreau stated: "The government recognizes that there are people who are more greatly affected by rising energy prices, and it is important for us to provide some relief," Boudreau said. "I encourage eligible individuals to apply for this program or to contact the Finance Department should they have any questions."
The present program, although modest, did give a number of low income citizens in the province an extra $100 to help pay their heating bills. Of course, the low earners, those on a fixed income and those drawing social assistance benefits were those who were directly targeted by the program. They are often those also whose housing is less energetic and in need of repairs and did count on having an extra $100 in their budget to pay some extra costs.
The recent hikes in the cost of fuel and electricity have raised concerns among the poorest in the province. Not only were they counting on the continuation of the Home Energy Assistance program, but they were expecting it to become more generous because of the continuous raise in the cost of heating.
The very least they expected from government was that any dismantling of the present program be replaced immediately by a new one, thus preventing a lot of anguish on the part of the low-income citizens who wonder how they will meet both ends this coming fall. About two weeks ago the cost of a 100 gallons of heating oil was $535.00. In 1996 it was only $160.00 for a 100 gallon. That is quite a jump for workers at minimum wage, for all citizens on fix income and those on social assistance. Inflation from 1996 to 2008 is up 30%. In that same period social assitance has only gone up 9% including October 1st of this year.. Everyone has loss 21% in real income but at the same time this government has chosen to raise the salaries plus ten percent bonus for all deputy ministers. All they are going to do mis reward them for saving money in their department.
If Nova Scotia, where energy rates are similar to ours, has decided to allocate $450 annually in their energy program for low-income households, why should our province not follow the same path? They even increase the cut-off to $25,000.00 for single people and $40,000.00 for families including a lot more people than in New Brunswick
"This was a good opportunity for government to demonstrate that it cares for the low-income people and to show more generosity in an area where support is greatly needed," concluded Ms. McCautlin.
Linda McCaustlin, co-chair
or Jean-Claude Basque