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Alberta government earmarks $20M to help food banks during inflation crisis

Click to play video: 'Alberta government boosts funding to food banks'
Alberta government boosts funding to food banks
WATCH: The province is delivering funding to food banks and service groups across Alberta to the tune of $20 million. $10 million of that would come from matching donations. Kendra Slugoski reports. – Nov 23, 2022

An Alberta cabinet minister says it makes more sense now to help people in the province suffering from an “inflation crisis” and skyrocketing utility bills than waiting for another seven months.

Read more: A look at how Canada compares to other countries amid high inflation

Matt Jones, minister of affordability and utilities, said he’s not about to apologize for providing help at this point, even though there’s a provincial election expected in the province in May.

“I would say there either is a cost of living and inflation crisis or there isn’t. Albertans are certainly feeling it and the next question becomes, should the government respond to address the real needs of Albertans now or wait for seven months?” Jones said Wednesday in Calgary during an announcement that the province is to provide $20 million over the next two years to help food banks.

“I’m not prepared to tell families to wait to feed their families or to get to work.

“We’ve been financially disciplined for three years, so we are in a position to do so and I think it’s important that we support Albertans in their time of greatest need.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta ends 2021-22 fiscal year with $3.9B surplus'
Alberta ends 2021-22 fiscal year with $3.9B surplus

Alberta is on track for a $13-billion surplus this year due to rebounding oil and gas prices, with an update on the budget coming Thursday.

The money is to include $10 million in direct funds and an additional $10 million in matching funds toward food banks, charities, non-profits and civil society organizations.

The first $5 million will be distributed in the coming weeks, the province said.

Read more: Alberta food banks see record demand amid inflation, rising fuel and food costs

Jeremy Nixon, minister of seniors, community and social services, said there is an “immediate crisis, so I think that adds to the answer why now.”

“Many Albertans rely on food banks, which is why I am so grateful for the work they do in their local communities. It is my goal to ensure that no Albertan ever needs to wonder where their next meal will come from,” Nixon said.

“During the pandemic there was also a crisis, so this isn’t new. We recently put $6 million into food banks then and we’re building on that.”

Click to play video: 'Food bank use at ‘critical’ levels in Alberta'
Food bank use at ‘critical’ levels in Alberta

Food Banks Alberta CEO Arianna Scott said the money is critical to meet rising needs from the public.

“When (the) Hunger Count (report) came out nationally in October, Alberta experienced a 73 per cent increase since 2019. So it is the largest increase across the country. It is also the largest increase that Alberta has ever experienced,” Scott said.

“We hear from our members every day that the number of new clients coming through the door is increasing exponentially. The majority of our members continue to experience an increase month over month throughout this year.”

Read more: Smith announces financial relief measures for Albertans during televised address

“As a member of Food Banks Alberta, we are glad to see the Alberta government is taking an essential step to fight hunger,” said Michael Pasma, president of the Calgary Food Bank.

“We all need to work together to find solutions to the root causes of food insecurity. As we approach a future of potential economic instability, we are honoured to have the Alberta government’s commitment.”

Food Banks Alberta has 104 member food banks.

Click to play video: 'Critics suggest grocery giants are profiteering amid inflation surge'
Critics suggest grocery giants are profiteering amid inflation surge

Premier Danielle Smith announced Tuesday payouts of $600 for middle- to lower-income families in a provincewide TV address. Those with a household income of less than $180,000 a year are to get $600 for each child under 18 over a period of six months. The same income threshold and benefit applies to seniors.

The government is also promising to remove its provincial gasoline tax and to continue providing electricity rebates.

Read more: Alberta’s tactic of doling out cash fuels inflation rather than easing it: economists

Jones said Wednesday that those not eligible for the $600 payouts aren’t being left out.

“The vast majority of Albertans will be eligible for up to $500 in electricity rebates and even more when you combine the fuel tax relief,” he said.

“I think we would all agree as the cost of living and inflation crises persist, we must target additional supports to where it is needed most.”

Read more: Alberta premier issues mandate letters to ministers stressing focus on inflation, ‘affordability crisis’

The province said the support for food banks comes as its Affordability Action Plan will offer broad-based supports and targeted relief for families, seniors and the most vulnerable.

— With files from Global News

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