Posted on Jul 18, 2021
ALBERTA’S NDP CALLS FOR CHANGES TO SUPPORT LOW-INCOME POST-SECONDARY LEARNERS
CALGARY - The NDP is calling on the UCP Government to reverse a damaging policy that has forced many Albertans to give up on their post-secondary education and career aspirations.
The Alberta Learner Income Support (full-time students) and the Skills Investment Bursary (part-time students) helps adult learners pay for basic education, upgrading or English as a Second Language (ESL) to enable those individuals to more fulsomely participate in the economy. Historically, this funding has not been considered as a reportable benefit for income tax purposes.
For tax year 2020, the UCP government made a decision to issue a T5007 income tax form, commonly called a Statement of Benefits, to Albertans who accessed these supports resulting in a surge in reported income at tax time. As a result, for tax year 2021, low income Albertans who accessed these critical learning supports now no longer qualify (or qualify at a reduced rate) for other important government benefits, for example, the GST credit or the Alberta Child and Family Benefit.
Asila Ashmawi, a Syrian refugee and mother of three, was forced to cancel her ESL program at Columbia College. As a result of the UCP’s policy change, she would have been forced to report thousands in additional income, which would have meant she no longer qualified for the Alberta Child Benefit.
“I was forced to decide between my career, my dreams or caring for my three children,” she said during a Sunday press conference. “I chose my family of course, but this isn’t right.”
The decision to change the tax treatment of these learning supports was done without consultation, and without Albertans knowing this change was coming. As a result, many low income Albertans didn't find out about additional income reporting requirements until they did their taxes.
“Alberta is at a critical moment,” said NDP Advanced Education Critic David Eggen. “We need to harness all of the brilliant and energetic people that are in this province to diversify our economy and create new jobs.
“People like Asila are critical to that. Post-secondary can be the engine of Alberta’s economic future, but not if we don’t give people the tools and building blocks to set up their careers and support their families. We are here today calling on the Minister to no longer calculate the Learner Income Benefit as taxable benefit for income tax purposes.”
Calgary-McCall Irfan Sabir said he’s heard from thousands of Albertans negatively impacted by the policy change. He wrote to UCP Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides in April demanding it be reversed and asked for the same during Question Period. So far, nothing has happened.
“The UCP Government must act to support Albertans and their futures,” he said.