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Families must apply for $300 affordability payment touted by premier | CBC News

A $300 affordability payment to working families in New Brunswick, announced with great fanfare by Premier Blaine Higgs last month, now has an asterisk attached.

The finance department says residents will have to apply for the money — something Higgs did not mention when he revealed the plan in his state of the province speech in January.

“We anticipate the application process to launch later this month,” spokesperson Morgan Bell said.

“Cheques would follow in the weeks after that. Further details will be made public in the coming days.”

Payments by end of March, premier said

Affordability was a key theme of Higgs’s Jan. 25 speech, an annual address seen as a chance for premiers speak to New Brunswickers directly — an especially important opportunity in an election year. 

He told the audience affordability has been “a focus for our government since we took office. In fact, every single year we have expanded supports for New Brunswickers and our most vulnerable.”

In comments to reporters after the speech, the premier made no mention of the need for applications to get the payments.

“They’ll start, I would say, probably by the end of February and we’ll get a good portion of them at the end of this quarter,” he said, referring to the end of the last quarter of the 2023-24 fiscal year on March 31.

The province says the payments will go to families with an annual net income of $70,000 or less to help make life more affordable.

Application questioned by opposition leaders

Opposition leaders say the application requirement could mean fewer New Brunswickers will get the benefit — if they are aware of it at all.

“What are they trying to do? Save money and spend less on an affordability benefit?” said Liberal Leader Susan Holt.

WATCH | ‘A strange choice’: Liberal leader on benefit hurdle:

Opposition laments ‘hoop to go through’ for $300 benefit

A new affordability benefit promised by the Higgs government last month will require New Brunswickers to go through an application process.

She said constituents have been calling Liberal MLA offices asking about the payment.

“To hear now that there is a barrier, a step in place, a hoop they have to jump through in order to get $300 of benefit — I really question why the government made that choice.” 

Green Leader David Coon questioned why, “in the age of computers,” the government can’t use tax data to determine who should get the money.

“There will be people who just aren’t aware of it and won’t pursue it,” Coon said.

“It will, I expect, reduce the numbers of people who will end up taking advantage of the $300 payment.” 

A man speaks while wearing glasses and a yellow shirt.
Green Party Leader David Coon said the application process will reduce the number of people who know about the payments and apply for them. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Bell explained that because the program will be provincially administered, and not a partnership with the federal government through the Canada Revenue Agency, it can’t use income tax data and will require an application.

Higgs said in the January speech that the payment “could benefit” around 250,000 families. The advance text of his speech said 200,000 families would get it, and a government news release put the number at 265,000. 

He said the $79.5 million cost was made possible by several years of large budget surpluses that lowered the provincial debt, reducing the amount the government has to spend each year on interest payments on the debt.

The premier told reporters that most of the money would roll out by March 31, “but not necessarily all of it. But we will try if we can.”

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