Finance Minister: No inflation relief payments for islanders until July

Prince Edward Island’s finance minister said inflation relief payments promised to help low-income islanders manage the rising cost of living will not be delivered for several months.

Minister Darlene Compton made the announcement in the Prince Edward Island legislature on Thursday as she answered questions about when and how islanders will receive the emergency inflation relief payments that the prime minister promised more than a month ago.

On March 8, Prime Minister Dennis King announced a $20 million inflation aid package. It promised direct payments of up to $150 to low-income islanders. Individuals who earn less than $35,000 will get the full $150 and those who earn between $35,000 and $50,000 will get $100.

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker asked when this money would be handed over to eligible people.

Compton said the province is working with the Canada Revenue Agency to distribute the funding, which won’t happen until July.

“If you look up the definition of emergency in the Oxford English Dictionary, you will find this: it is a dangerous and often dangerous situation that requires immediate action, not a dangerous and often dangerous situation that requires you to sit on your hand for two months,” said Bevan Baker.

“Why are you coordinating with the CRA and the federal government when you can run it at the county level and get those checks tomorrow?”

90,000 qualified people

These questions come with heating oil and diesel prices soaring overnight, setting a new price record for furnace oil on the island.

The inflation aid package announced last month also includes help for NGOs and food banks, and money for student unions to distribute to students.

Compton said the inflation relief funding will be delivered within the GST payments in July. She said the county has already spent $10 million to fund other forms of support for islanders such as the home heating program and the toonie-transit program.

Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker said: “I’m not quite sure why and when they would advertise like they did if they weren’t ready to trigger it.” (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

Speaking to reporters outside the room, Bevan Baker said the county should be responsible for handing over the money. Throughout the pandemic, he said, the county government has shown it can deliver emergency relief payments quickly and he wondered why the government didn’t take the same approach this time.

“When we had COVID, this government treated it like a true emergency. We were creative, we were fast, and we put together the software,” Bevan Baker said. “What I see here is far from an emergency response.”

Compton told CBC News that working with the TRA to provide inflation relief financing was the best option because of the number of people eligible to pay. It said about 90,000 are eligible and will receive automatic payments.

“The big challenge is the sheer size of the island population,” she said. “With an epidemic control programme, we might have 2,000 people getting money out of the door for them and that’s nothing compared to 90,000 people. There has to be certain personnel and … a mechanism in place.”

She said the county also doesn’t have access to everyone’s annual income information, and if the county is to run the program, people will have to apply for the funds. Compton said the county does not have the resources to process this number of applications in a timely manner.

“Working with the CRA seems to be the only way we can ever do this in a timely manner.”

The timing of the announcement of the green question

Another issue raised by the opposition is why the government has announced funding for emergency inflation relief when the money will not be available to the people for several months.

“I’m not quite sure why they would advertise like they did and when they would if they weren’t ready to trigger it,” Bevan Baker said.

Finance Minister Darlene Compton said working with the Canada Revenue Agency to distribute the payments is the best option because many people qualify for relief payments. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

Compton said the government wanted the money to get to islanders as quickly as possible, but delays with the CRA meant that wasn’t possible.

“I will apologize to Islanders that we didn’t get that soon, but there’s really no mechanism – we don’t have access to Islanders’ bank account information to deposit money into their accounts. The only way to do that is through a CRA,” Compton said.

She said if people are struggling at the moment, they can call 211 to inquire about other types of support available to them.

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