Recommendation: the Province of Manitoba must introduce a livable basic needs benefit to lift all Manitobans up to or above the poverty line.

Households on Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) have not had an increase in their Basic Needs budget –meant to cover food and other basic needs – since 2004. The basic needs budget for a single individual on General Assistance has been stuck at $195 per month for over a decade. When other household supplies and necessities are subtracted, families are left with less than $4 per day per person for food, well below the cost of a healthy diet in Manitoba.

In 2015, the Manitoba government raised the rent budget for people receiving EIA to reflect actual rent costs, by implementing its commitment to increase Rent Assist to 75 per cent of median market rent. This increase only goes halfway to filling the gap in what people on EIA need to survive. The other major component of the EIA program, the Basic Needs budget also needs adjustment.

Table 1: Food budgets for EIA recipients
Family type Total Basic Needs budget EIA food budget Actual cost of food Food budget as a per cent of food cost Proposed EIA Basic Needs budget
Single individual (General Assistance) $195.00 $117.00 $295.70 40% $390
Single individual (disability): $274.80 $164.88 $295.70 56% $549.60
Single Parent - One children (Ages 4) $376.40 $225.84 $373.22 61% $752.80
Two Adults - Two Children (Ages 14 and 8) $800.40 $480.24 $880.08 55% $1,600.80

The Basic Needs pinch that households relying on EIA can be seen when we look at food costs. We estimate that households relying on EIA spend 60 per cent of their Basic Needs budget on food. In Winnipeg, each sample family type receives only 40 to 61 per cent of the amount that is required to eat healthy. The money left over after food to cover clothing, transportation, sanitary products and other basic needs is also insufficient. Higher food costs in northern and remote communities mean that families there face an even greater gap.

The Basic Needs budget for all EIA recipients should be doubled immediately to reflect the rising cost of food and other basic necessities.

Longer term, a transparent process with community participation should be established to ensure that EIA budgets continue to reflect the actual costs of basic necessities in Manitoba and that these budgets are updated annually. We call for the Province to start an EIA Rate Review Committee with a mandate to create new legislation for these purposes. The EIA Rate Review Committee should contain representatives from government and community and with a mandate to create new legislation to establish a transparent mechanism for (i) defining basic needs and setting rates to reflect the actual costs of purchasing basic needs; (ii) reviewing and annually updating EIA rates in Manitoba to reflect increasing costs.

The Province of Manitoba should double the Employment and Income Assistance basic needs budget to reflect the cost of living, establishing a community and government Rate Review Committee to redefine basic needs to reflect the actual costs of purchasing and annually update EIA rates reflecting increasing costs. Households on EIA should receive a basic needs budget that covers their basic needs.