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Some Albertans will have to apply to get $600 inflation-relief payments

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Following through on promises made on TV two weeks ago, Danielle Smith's government introduced legislation Wednesday to help Albertans with the rising cost of living.

The Inflation Relief Statutes Amendment Act would slash fuel taxes, provide utility rebates and tinker with tax brackets. It will cost Alberta $2.8 billion, but with a United Conservative Party majority in the legislature, it's expected to pass easily.

The plan would also see $600 payments made per child to many parents and also to seniors, but the money will not just show up for everyone.

"Seniors, vulnerable Albertans on core support programs will receive the relief payments automatically," Minister of Affordability and Utilities Matt Jones explained.

"Families and Albertans not on those core support programs will apply through a portal."

Jones said those applications will be paired with government information "to make sure the targeted-relief payments go to where they are intended."

The minister didn't say exactly when the portal will open or what day the money will be delivered.

The cash payments to families that make less than $180,000 a year and seniors will come in $100 portions over six months starting sometime in January, Jones said, adding more information will be coming in the next couple of weeks.

WHY NOT JUST GIVE CHEQUES TO EVERYONE?

Jones was also asked by reporters why the payments aren't being made to everyone, like when former premier Ralph Klein's government put $400 cheques in the mail for everyone except prisoners in 2006.

"The average Alberta household, with or without children, seniors or vulnerable Albertans will receive up to an estimated $900 in broad-based relief alone," he replied.

A journalist pointed out that people who aren't seniors, don't have kids, don't drive or don't directly pay their utility bills won't see as much benefit as others, but Jones defended the plan.

"Families have seen a $1,000 increase in their annual food bill over families without children. And that's why targeted relief, to families with children, of $100-a-month will help to offset the incremental burden that inflation places on families with children," he said.

Alberta's 13-cent fuel tax will be paused until June 30, 2023, and relief will be provided going forward to drivers when oil prices average above $80 per barrel, the government said.

About 1.9 million homes, farms and businesses will receive a total of $200 in electricity rebates from January to April and the UCP is also promising "permanent natural gas price protection" in early 2023.

'PURCHASING POWER…HAS BEEN FALLING PRETTY DRAMATICALLY'

The government will also reindex payments under Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and tie Income Support and the Alberta Seniors Benefit to inflation as well.

Changes to tax brackets will result in as many as 95,000 more Albertans no longer paying income tax as the "basic personal amount" rises to $21,003. This change will also mean higher tax refunds for many, the government promised.

“Our focus on responsible fiscal management has allowed us to provide this timely response to the affordability challenge that so many Albertans are facing," Finance Minister Travis Toews said.

When the plan was first announced by Smith, the Opposition NDP said voters couldn't trust the government to maintain re-indexation past a spring election and leader Rachel Notley said as premier she would do more to help Albertans with inflation.

A local economist said the help that is in the bill is desperately needed now by low-income Albertans, although he thinks increases to programs for the vulnerable should be higher.

"For the past three years, we've had high rates of inflation and without indexation [of government support]. So the purchasing power of social assistance incomes over the past three years has been falling pretty dramatically," said Ron Kneebone from the University of Calgary.

"[Rising inflation] will inevitably cause people to start lining up at food banks. We're already seeing that. And the next step after that, is an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness."

With files from CTV News Calgary's Timm Bruch

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