As of Jan. 18, eligible Albertans are able to apply for the provincial government's new affordability payments – $600 per child under 18 for families that have a household income below $180,000 per year. The province will use the CRA's 2021 tax data to verify families' eligibility for the new program, and families can apply through their accounts on Alberta.ca. (Seniors and those on income support programs such as AISH are also automatically eligible).
Back when the $2.4 billion affordability package was first announced by Premier Danielle Smith in November, the $600 payments were originally christened 'Dani Dollars.' It was a nod to the tax-free $400-per-person 'Ralph Bucks' prosperity bonus that former premier Ralph Klein had distributed to more than three million Albertans back in 2006, after the province posted a healthy $6.8 billion surplus.
Seventeen years later, the spirit of Smith's support payments is very similar, as are Alberta's fiscal conditions, courtesy of the provincial government's latest forecast of a $12.3 billion surplus.
Make no mistake, an extra $600 per kid will be welcome relief for families that are feeling the pinch of high inflation at the moment. That being said, the dishing out of a few hundred bucks to the program's eligible applicants feels like an opportunistic gesture, given Alberta is just four months out from a provincial election. Given the hits to their popularity the United Conservative Party took throughout the COVID-19 pandemic under Jason Kenney's leadership, Smith knows she has to do whatever it takes to regain Albertans' trust in her party. Adding literal cash to people's bank accounts is a pretty easy way to start.
But just like Ralph bucks were criticized by some seventeen years ago as being a somewhat pointless giveaway, the same arguments are being made against Smith's affordability payments. Critics argued the government could have used the $900 million that is being allocated for the support payments to go toward other government programs or address the root causes of poverty.
Many have also pointed out that struggling Albertans without children are not eligible.