Posted on Sep 21, 2020


EDMONTON – Jason Kenney and the UCP government’s plan to eliminate some forms of disabilities from being eligible for the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program is distressing and destabilizing for mental health patients, says an Edmonton psychiatrist.

On September 15, Jason Kenney confirmed the Alberta government would seek to reduce the budget deficit by changing AISH qualification criteria to reduce the number of recipients. Kenney said the government would redefine the term “severely handicapped”, throwing some Albertans off AISH. While it is currently unknown who will no longer qualify, senior Kenney staff have indicated that Albertans with mental health issues are not “severely handicapped” and likely do not deserve AISH benefits.

“Jason Kenney does not get to choose who is and who isn’t living with a disability that prevents them from working. When the Premier suggests that some people are abusing the system, or are not deserving of these benefits, he is revealing his extreme ignorance,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

“There are now 70,000 Albertans living with fear and anxiety that they will lose the only support they have to live during a pandemic because of Jason Kenney. It is unthinkable and it is inhumane.”

Dr. Ernie Boffa is the lead physician for the Assertive Community Treatment team at the Edmonton Mental Health Clinic. He specializes in working with patients suffering from severe and persistent mental health issues, such as those with treatment-resistant schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Nearly all of his patients require AISH to survive.

“The AISH process is very extensive for physicians working with mental health patients, requiring disclosure of the patients’ medical histories, conditions, treatment plans, prognosis and even determining the exact level of impairment. The entire process often takes as long as a year,” said Dr. Boffa. 

“I go through this process because I care for patients who often refuse to acknowledge they are sick, and will otherwise live in cycles of poverty and hospitalization. AISH improves their lives and ensures they can access the medication they need to be well. Now, many patients are reading the news, unsure if they will still qualify for AISH in the future. This causes them extreme distress and risks destabilizing their illness.”  

The Alberta NDP Caucus has heard from thousands of Albertans who have serious concerns. The UCP’s plans have created fear, anxiety and even depression for members of the disability community..

“People are scared, and doctors now have no idea what to tell their most vulnerable patients,” said Marie Renaud, NDP Community and Social Services Critic. “Jason Kenney needs to tell Albertans with disabilities exactly who won’t be able to afford rent or buy groceries or better yet, stop this plan today.”

A 2016 Auditor General report found that previously the AISH program was inaccessible, lacked consistency in the application and screening process, and required improvements to be more fair. During the NDP Government’s term, changes were made to the AISH eligibility to improve on the problems identified including new online resources, performance measures, and screening criteria.