Last June, while meeting with community members at the Central Lions Seniors Activity Centre, I heard from a resident who for the first time in years did not qualify for the Leisure Access Program. At age 72, she was required to cash in her RRSP savings (as mandated by the Government of Canada) and that put her $800 over the low income threshold and disqualified her for many other benefits she had previously received, including the Leisure Access Program. Here is a senior who was keeping active and involved in her community, but could no longer afford to do so because her slightly higher income actually stopped her from receiving many benefits and therefore was actually in a more challenging financial position.
This made me realize that using the low income threshold set out by the Federal Government as a hard line has created challenges for those who are working their way out of poverty. So while some residents don’t qualify for the program due to slightly higher income levels than current thresholds, they are essentially excluded from accessing City amenities because they would have to pay full rates and their marginally higher income isn’t enough to cover the significantly higher cost for programs and services. Therefore after doing some research on this, I presented the following motion at the August 23rd 2016 City Council meeting which passed unanimously:
That Administration develop a sliding scale fee proposal for low income Edmontonians, including those just outside the low income cut-offs typically used, that would apply to City of Edmonton low income subsidy programs (e.g. Leisure Access Pass, Low Income Transit Pass) and return to Committee with this proposal that would identify a timeline for implementation, requirements/options for funding, and administrative requirements.
This report (Item 6.6 with five attachments) was brought back to the Community and Public Services Committee meeting on April 3, 2017 for consideration. The report recommended proceeding with the implementation of the sliding scale approach for the Leisure Access Program. This will take effect in June of this year. Along with that great news the following motion was passed: That Administration prepare a report on the integration of a Low Income Transit Pass program into the sliding scale model; including the complexities and dependencies of the program.
The recommendations from this report were passed at the April 11/12 City Council meeting which you can find here (item 6.8 with 5 attached documents). The proposed sliding scale fee model focuses on two programs that would have the most immediate impact and benefit the greatest number of residents: the Leisure Access Program and the Low Income Transit pass. This model will see Edmontonians who fall below and just above the low income threshold, be able to access programs on a sliding scale fee consisted of three tier levels:
- Tier One: Edmontonians living at or below the Low Income Cut Off
- Tier Two: Edmontonians earning up to 10% above the Low Income Cut Off
- Tier Three: Edmontonians earning between 11% and 25 % above the Low Income Cut Off
In 2016, about 145,000 Edmontonians were eligible for the Leisure Access Program. Under this model, approximately 197,700 people will be eligible for the program. This will also benefit the Group Leisure Access program that provides leisure passes to social service agencies who can then distribute at their discretion to individual citizens who may not be able to complete the application process for any number of reasons. In 2015, 261 social agencies participated, resulting in 9,100 additional low income patrons visiting recreation facilities. As part of the sliding scale fee model to increase citizen access, Administration will be evaluating how the Group Leisure Access Program can be made more effective in reaching those that need it most.
As mentioned above, changes to the Leisure Access Program will be implemented this June. The transit pass program was already planned to start in September 2017. After analyzing the proposed changes to the Leisure Access Program, there are numerous complexities for structuring a sliding scale for transit users so Edmonton Transit Service will be looking at recommendations from the Transit Strategy, further collaboration with Citizen Services and additional engagement with the City of Calgary in terms of lessons learned from its sliding scale implementation. They will then bring back a report to committee in early 2018 to provide an update on the Transit pass program which will include analysis of extending the program beyond 2018 and a recommended approach on how best to integrate the sliding scale model ahead of the 2019-2022 operating and capital budget deliberations. I think it’s important to note that Tier 3 (income 11-25% above the cut-off) will be cost neutral due to the increased number of monthly passes purchased.
I am pleased with the results of the report and look forward to seeing it begin in the coming months. This will result in more Edmontonians being able to access our rec centres and remove barriers to applying for the subsidies. I am also delighted to see that the City will be exploring additional income-based subsidy programs within the City based on learnings from this first phase of the low income sliding scale model implementation. June of 2018 will see a one year performance review of the model that will give us a good indication of the viability and success of the program. Apart from the City of Calgary’s implementation of a sliding scale model for transit users, Edmonton would be the first major city to introduce this model for various fair entry programs offered by the city. This new approach to accessing important services will make a big difference for those working their way out of poverty and supports the great work done already being completed through the EndPovertyEdmonton Strategy.
Co-Authored by A. Knack and K. Machin