Housing, poverty advocates say budget 'doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence'

Anti-poverty advocate Mark Nichols worries there isn't enough in the 2023 budget to help people struggling with rising costs.

N.L. Housing budget up 55%, but most of it tied up in long-term plans

A man wearing a yellow reflective jacket stands on a street in downtown St. John's.
Mark Nichols is a community organizer for the Workers' Action Network N.L. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Anti-poverty advocate Mark Nichols worries there isn't enough in the 2023 provincial budget to help people struggling with rising costs. 

Nichols — a community organizer with the Workers' Action Network of Newfoundland and Labrador — said the budget took necessary steps to improve health care but did little to consider the health impacts of social services, and won't do enough to help people struggling to make ends meet.

"I didn't see a lot that's going to make a significant difference in their lives," Nichols said.

The total budget for the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development rose from $376,530,900 to $381,549,900. That includes five per cent increases to the income supplement and seniors' benefit in the forms of quarterly payments. Income support rates are also going up by five per cent, which was announced last November.

Nichols was hoping for more, since income support rates had remained fixed for the past decade, despite inflation sitting around 24 per cent for that time frame.

"So a five per cent increase now is nowhere near to making up the ground that they've lost over that time," Nichols said. "And I would just add that [the consumer price index] this past year was 6.4 per cent. So it's not even matching inflation."

Nichols hoped to see more investment in the province's prescription drug plan and housing programs, to help expand the eligibility for those social supports to people who sit outside the limits. As minimum wage goes up but inflation drags more people into poverty, Nichols worries people will find themselves in need but ineligible for support.

Housing advocate hoped for more

The budget for housing in the province saw a significant increase, rising 55 per cent from $47,080,500 last year to $73,061,500 in the upcoming year.

Doug Pawson, executive director of End Homelessness St. John's, said much of that money is to pay for things that have been planned for several years as part of the National Housing Strategy with the provincial and federal governments.

A man wearing a grey jacket looks into the camera. He has short hair and a short beard.
Doug Pawson is the executive director of End Homelessness St. John's. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

While he was happy to see significant investment in health care, and acknowledges the social benefits that come with it, Pawson said he wanted to see more to meet worsening problems in the social sector.

"It doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence on the social policy side," Pawson said.

The province is setting aside $30 million for a new health-care and housing hub in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, to help ease the homelessness crisis in the small Labrador town. It's also putting money aside to build 850 new affordable housing units.

Pawson hopes that investment will help ease the strain on shelters, which have reached a level of demand never before seen in the province.

"The breakdown of what those homes will look like and where they'll be is really important," Pawson said. 

"And I say that only because in the past when they've announced affordable housing projects and initiatives, they've often lumped shelter beds into that. And so I'm curious to know how many more shelter beds are part of the 850 affordable homes that have been announced."

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