Mr. Speaker, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment provides a better quality of life for some of the most vulnerable residents of the Northwest Territories through its Income Security Program. I’d like to speak today about a significant improvement that is being made to the Income Assistance Program, as well as two very important initiatives that are underway.
Starting in April 2015, Income Assistance clients will receive more money for food and incidental expenses. These benefits will continue to increase each year for the next four years. The increases to these benefits will allow our clients to receive benefit levels that reflect the actual cost of healthy foods for their families regardless of the community they live in. Healthy, educated people who are free from poverty is a goal of this Assembly, and making this vital enhancement to the Income Assistance Program will help meet this goal.
I am also pleased to report on a joint initiative that is underway with our colleagues at the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation. ECE will be transferring the NWT Housing Corporation responsibility for administration of 75 market housing units available to Income Assistance clients. There will be 55 units in Yellowknife, ten units in Inuvik, and ten units in Hay River. Income Assistance clients in these units will have reduced rent, and resources are being transferred from ECE to the NWTHC to operate them, so it will be cost neutral to the GNWT. People in these units will also experience an easier transition to the workforce due to the Housing Corporation’s graduated rent to income scheme.
Mr. Speaker, I’ve said before that our people are our territory’s greatest resource. Having more skilled NWT residents entering the workforce will strengthen our economy.
We are working to improve the NWT labour force through the creation of five new Employment Officer positions. These positions will provide individual support to employable Income Assistance clients so they are able to gain employment or enter into training programs. The intent of these new positions is to further reduce Income Assistance caseloads, which have continued to decrease over the past five years.
Mr. Speaker, addressing high living costs and giving Northerners the tools they need to find and keep work, including stable housing, are priorities for this government. I am proud of the innovative approaches and work completed to support and contribute to this Assembly’s goals of Northerners leading healthy successful lives free from poverty.
Masi, Mr. Speaker.