Advocates call for long-term affordability measures as more Manitobans turn to food banks

A record 42,000 people across Manitoba accessed a food bank to put dinner on the table in February. Rosanna Hempel looks at what long-term solutions need to be introduced to stop the rise.

A record 42,000 people across Manitoba accessed a food bank to put dinner on the table in February. That’s a total of 19,000 households, up from 18,000 in January.

“For our clients, the mood is one of frustration, one of fatigue, one where people are literally at their wit’s end,” said Vince Barletta, president and CEO of Harvest Manitoba.

Barletta says about half the people accessing food banks are children, and one in four are people with jobs. A rising number of seniors on fixed incomes are looking for help as well.

He hopes Manitoba’s upcoming minimum wage increases and settling inflation will see demand drop. The federal grocery rebate, as outlined in Tuesday’s budget, is expected to help as well.

“Is it getting to the real underlying issues? No, it’s not,” said Barletta. “But it will be a temporary, one-time relief for many families in this province who really, desperately need a break.”

The rebate would be delivered in the same way as the existing GST tax credit, and is expected to deliver $234 to single Canadians and $467 to a family of four. An estimated 11 million households are expected to receive the benefit.

But Evelyn Forget, a Community Health Sciences Professor at the University of Manitoba, calls this a “Band-Aid” measure.

“People who are receiving a few hundred dollars – that will buy groceries for a week or two. But it won’t go beyond that; it won’t allow people to make decisions about their lives.”

Forget wants the government to move toward a more long-term measure: guaranteed basic income. She says it would not only bring low-income people some dignity, but help solve persistent problems, such as ballooning health and mental health-care costs, as well as the number of people incarcerated for poverty-related crimes.

“We ask people at the worst times of their lives to wade through these bureaucracies to figure out what programs they might be entitled to and to apply for them, and a basic income is simply a better way of ensuring that people receive the resources they need to make good decisions.”

In the meantime, Baretta says automatic tax filing for low-income earners announced in the federal budget is a positive step, which will help Manitobans get their grocery rebate, GST credit, child tax benefits, or other programs.

– with files from Global’s Rosanna Hempel

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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