New Brunswick

Over 50,000 N.B. families not expected to receive $300 'affordability' benefit before April

More than 50,000 New Brunswick households will be waiting until April or later to receive a $300 "affordability" payment promised in January, according to New Brunswick government estimates.

Province has offered conflicting estimates of how many families will be helped

Blaine Higgs standing at podium
In the hours before, during and after the state of the province speech by Premier Blaine Higgs on Jan. 25, his government changed estimates of the number of families who will be helped by a new $300 'affordibility' payment from 200,000 to 250,000 to 265,000. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

More than 50,000 New Brunswick households will be waiting until April or later to receive a $300 "affordability" payment promised in January, according to New Brunswick government estimates.

Last week, New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves delivered a third-quarter fiscal update for the province that included $58.8 million set aside for what is being called "a new affordability measure for lower-income New Brunswick workers" that Premier Blaine Higgs announced in his state of the province address Jan. 25.

The amount is below the $75 million the province estimates the program will cost to distribute $300 to 250,000 recipients.

The difference is because the Department of Finance does not expect the program can be organized quickly enough to distribute all of the promised money by March 31, the end of the current fiscal year.

"The benefit dollars are being spread out over two fiscal years," said a department spokesperson explaining the lower number in an email. "The $58.8 million would be for the current fiscal."

That equates to 196,000 payments of $300 by March 31. It leaves 54,000 families to be paid in April or later, assuming the estimate of who is eligible for help is accurate and 100 per cent of eligible recipients are eventually paid.

Ernie Steeves smiling
New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves last week provided estimates showing the New Brunswick government expects 54,000 New Brunswick families won't have a promised $300 'affordability' benefit announced by the end of March. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The province has already issued three different estimates of how many households will be eligible to receive money.

In an advance version of Higgs's state of the province speech, 200,000 families were said to be in line for assistance. Hours later in the speech itself, Higgs said it would be 250,000 and in his social media postings a day after the speech the figure was raised to 265,000, which would cost $79.5 million.

The Department of Finance says it considers 250,000 families to be the accurate estimate of the three, although it did not respond to questions last week asking about the source of that number.

In his social media posts, Higgs said the program is for "families earning under $70,000," although media releases have said it is for those with a "net annual income of $70,000 or less."

But those descriptions raise their own questions.

According to Statistics Canada, 168,860 New Brunswick households had pre-tax incomes of $70,000 or below in 2020. There are no specific numbers on "net income," but 193,750 had after-tax income below $70,000.

New Brunswick's population has grown eight per cent since 2020, but it has also experienced a rise in incomes, making it unlikely the number of households earning before-tax or after-tax incomes below $70,000 has reached 250,000.

Those wanting the $300 payment will have to apply for the money, a requirement that has a track record of cutting down on the number of people who receive benefits.

In June 2022, the province announced an "emergency" fuel and food benefit program that it said more than 75,000 people were eligible to receive.

It reported in December about 69,000 had received the assistance. However, most of that went to those who were sent the money automatically, including social assistance recipients, low income seniors and people receiving disability benefits.

Statistics Canada sign
Statistics Canada reported that fewer than 170,000 New Brunswick households had incomes below $70,000 in 2020. The New Brunswick government says 250,000 families will benefit from a $300 benefit aimed at those income levels. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Last week, New Brunswick opposition leaders said they expect the same will happen with the $300 benefit if an application is required.

"What are they trying to do? Save money and spend less on an affordability benefit?" said Liberal Leader Susan Holt.

Green Party Leader David Coon agreed.

"It will, I expect, reduce the numbers of people who will end up taking advantage of the $300 payment," said Coon.

The province promises to unveil the procedure people can use to apply for the money in "days."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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