Opinion
Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

GNWT Bends Child Care Rules: Small Upside in Problematic Program

Conservatives' controversial pre-election gift could have disadvantaged NWT's low-income families.
Give the baby some (non-taxable) money

Another turn in the saga of the somewhat questionable Conservative Universal Child Care Benefit, announced with much fanfare in Ottawa last week: the GNWT is now bending rules to prevent retroactive payments from hurting low-income residents more than helping them.

In a press release sent out Friday afternoon, Premier Bob McLeod pointed out that retroactive UCCB payments, while welcome for some, “would reduce the amount income assistance clients will receive from the Income Assistance program.”

This is because UCCB is considered income, and there’s a cap on the amount people who receive income assistance can earn before they start losing benefits.

“Both the increase and the retroactive UCCB payments would be considered income. As a result of this, IA clients’ August payments would decrease, and therefore they would not necessarily benefit from the full retroactive payment in the same way as other NWT residents with children.”

The GNWT has chosen to exempt the retroactive payments from current rules capping the amount of unearned income people can keep without affecting their IA payments at $1200 a year.

It’s a laudable move on the GNWT’s part. But it serves to highlight yet another problem with the Conservative program, which feels a bit more like a vote-buying exercise three months before the election than an actual attempt to deal with the issue of sky-high daycare costs.

Even with the increased benefits – families will receive $160 a month for each child under six, up from $100, and $60 a month for each child between six and 17 – it’s only a small dent in the average monthly cost of daycare in the NWT, which ranges from $900 to $1000 a month for infants and $600 to $700 for preschoolers. Sure a one-time retroactive check for $520 for every child under six and $420 for kids six to 17 is a nice boost; but don’t forget, come next April, Ottawa will be clawing a chunk of it back and low-income people will still be struggling to pay for daycare.