Fair Calgary Policy aims to include all low-income Calgarians
Community activists gathered at City Hall chambers on Nov. 7 to discuss amendments to the Fair Calgary Policy. The program provides low-income Calgarians – many who may have disabilities - access to services like transit and recreation at a reduced or free cost.
Activists were there to lobby to include about 9,500 more low income Calgarians.
However, citizens were unable to speak to the issue. A motion was passed by all the aldermen to have the policy deferred for another month to discuss the estimated $5 million additional cost.
At this point, roughly half of the attendees – some using wheelchairs or crutches - left the committee meeting to discuss the current Fair Calgary Policy outside in the now bustling and crowded chamber hall.
Thomas Poulsen, a representative of Disability Action Hall who has cerebral palsy, said that the current Fair Calgary Policy excludes the highest earning 25 per cent of those who fall into the low-income cut off, commonly known as LICO. This includes some of those who qualify for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, also known as AISH.
"We are hoping to get as many voices out as we can to raise opposition to [the current Fair Calgary Policy] at the committee level," Poulsen said.
Granting access to Calgary Transit is the main focus of the policy, and is the main concern for those looking to speak at the City Hall meeting.
The city uses the lower 75 per cent of income on the LICO scale to determine free and reduced cost for transit passes and other services under Fair Calgary Policy. In order to qualify for LICO benefits as a Calgarian, one must earn less than $23,298 year. As a family of three, the household must earn less than $35,657.
However, to qualify for the Fair Calgary Policy, including transit passes, a citizen must earn less than $17,473.50 – or a family of three must earn less than $26,742.75.
Currently 87,000 Calgarians qualify for LICO.
Views on the current policy
In an interview in the hallway after the meeting, Alderman John Mar, chair of the Standing Policy Committee on Community and Protective Services, said that the City has predicted a $5-million-dollar cost associated with program, and will need to discuss the budget.
"We're certainly aware of the challenges that the disadvantaged people in our community face, and we're going to try to work through it through the budget process to determine what is going to be reasonable," Ald. Mar said.
Alderman Jim Stevenson, who suggested the motion be deferred, said that more time is needed to ensure fair costs for those under LICO and on AISH.
"What we have to do is make sure that the most vulnerable are not over-taxed to be able to get around the city," Stevenson said.
One of the groups advocating for change is Fair Fares Calgary. It works alongside the Fair Calgary Policy to allow an affordable and accessible transit system for those on low income - especially those living with disabilities.
Colleen Huston, a representative of Fair Fares Calgary, said 9,500 people who should qualify may not get a transit pass next year. She has been collecting signatures to petition for changes to policy.
"We noticed that many people are living below the poverty line but aren't qualifying for the pass due to eligibility criteria, such as they're not quite poor enough," Huston said.
She has been working towards making the policy more fair and inclusive since 2006, and said changes should not be taking this long.
Anticipated changes to policy
Fair Fares Calgary, working together with Vibrant Communities Calgary and the Disability Action Hall, recently interviewed 220 people displaced by the current policy to see how they were affected, and what changes they would like to see.
These organizations are now working alongside the City of Calgary to discuss appropriate changes, including introducing a sliding scale for transit, lowering age restrictions, and including everybody who qualifies for LICO benefits.
Another proposal to changes in the policy involves simplifying the application process for Fair Calgary benefits. Instead of having multiple forms for various programs and services, Fair Fares Calgary is lobbying to have a universal form and application process for these benefits.
Thomas Poulsen continues to be optimistic toward policy changes, and views the deferral as a postponement to an eventual victory.
"I think that, under the circumstances, it is probably good for us to have more time to raise our voices," Poulsen said.
The next scheduled meeting regarding the Fair Calgary Policy is to be held on Dec. 5 at City Hall.
- By Kyle Napier & Riad Kadri