Renters will get a tax credit, families will get a bump in the B.C. Family Benefit and prescription contraception will be free. But the carbon tax is going up, which means gas will get more expensive.
David Eby’s first budget as premier delivered a $4.2 billion deficit to pay for the long-promised $400 renters’ credit, free prescription contraception, new rental housing and $200 million to expand mental health and addiction services across B.C.
The 2023/24 budget, presented Tuesday by Finance Minister Katrine Conroy, also provides cash to help people with the affordability crisis amid rising inflation by boosting existing tax credits for low- and middle-income families and lifting the shelter rate for people on income and disability assistance.
“It’s just not the right time to start making cuts,” Conroy said Tuesday. “It’s not the right time to start making people pay out of pocket for services they expect.”
The NDP government’s climate plan includes steady hikes to the carbon tax over the next seven years, which it said will encourage industry to lower their emissions. That will make it more expensive to fill up your tank of gas, adding 26 cents a litre to fuel by 2030.
Here are some of the key budget take-aways:
1. Supports for renters and new housing
The government has made good on its 2017 election promise to provide a $400 a year to renters but through a tax credit rather than a cash rebate starting in 2024. British Columbians who rent for at least six months in a calendar year and who earn $60,000 a year or less will get the full $400. Those who earn $80,000 a year or less will receive the rebate on a sliding scale. Conroy said 80 per cent of B.C. renters will get some assistance, including seniors, people with disabilities and low-income British Columbians who already receive rental supports.
The government also hopes to boost the rental stock through a new pilot program that will provide financial incentives to homeowners to build secondary suites on their property. That program will cost taxpayers $91 million over three years.
The budget promised $450 million this year to build more homes through the B.C. Builds program, including $83 million in capital funding to acquire lands for future affordable housing near transit corridors.
Another $45 million this year will help post-secondary institutions build more student housing.
The government will spend $384 million to address the homelessness crisis, include funding new regional teams to help people living in encampments.
2. Mental health and addictions
The province’s wait-list-plagued mental health and addictions treatment system will get a $867 million cash injection over three years, or $200 million this year, which Conroy called the largest investment in mental health services in B.C.’s history.
The bulk of that funding will add 190 new treatment and recovery beds and develop new “recovery communities” to support people after they leave treatment including Indigenous treatment centres and wraparound services for youth.
The new money will also expand the Red Fish Healing Centre model — a much-lauded addictions and mental health treatment centre located on the former site of the Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam — to other areas of the province.
The B.C. Liberals’ treatment plan included a promise to waive all user fees for treatment services so people do not have to pay out of pocket. Conroy said the government will remove user fees only on the 190 new treatment spaces but not on existing treatment beds.
New funding will also expand access to prescription opioids as an alternative to toxic street drugs.
3. Free contraception
The government has delivered its promise to provide free prescription contraception effective April 1, making it the first jurisdiction in Canada to do so. The program, which will cost $39 million this year, covers oral contraception, injections, intrauterine devices, subdermal implants and emergency contraceptive, such as Plan B. B.C. will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to do so.
For people who pay an average of $25 a month for contraception, the government said free coverage could save them $10,000 over their lifetime.
Families stung by the rising costs of groceries and overall costs related to inflation will get a 10 per cent bump to the B.C. Family Benefit starting in July. That means a two-parent family with two kids will get an additional $250 a year while a single parent with one child will get an extra $650 a year.
Starting in July, people with disabilities or those on income assistance will get $125 more a month to pay for shelter, something advocates had been calling for to support vulnerable people amid rising costs.
That means a single person on income assistance will receive $1060 a month and people with disabilities will receive $1,483. The higher social assistance rates are expected to benefit 161,000 people and will cost the government $147 million this year.
The government will also spend $88 million this year to boost financial support for care providers such as foster families and caregivers who support seniors or people with disabilities.
Following Conroy’s visit to Ruth King Elementary Monday where she served hot lunches to students, the budget earmarks $59 million this year to expand existing school food programs.
5. Health care
The budget earmarks an additional $2.3 billion this year to prop up B.C.’s flagging health care system which has left people without a family doctor and led to overcrowded emergency rooms and burned out health care staff. The $6 billion over 10 years in heath care cash promised by the federal government is not included in the budget.
The government’s health and human resources plan aimed at recruiting new health care staff and retaining existing staff, announced by Health Minister Adrian Dix in September, will cost $273 million this year.
Another $400 million this year will pay for the previously announced compensation model for family doctors and incentives to attract recent graduates into family medicine.
The government not cover psychological services under the Medical Services Plan which B.C. psychologists had been pushing for as a way to help people with mental health challenges before they show up at already-stretched emergency rooms in crisis.
There will be major hikes to the carbon tax over the coming years to increase the cost for emissions output. The tax, which is currently $50 a tonne, will increase every year by $15 a tonne until rates hit $170 a tonne in 2030. That will increase prices at the pump by 26 cents by 2030.
Conroy said the rising cost of fuel will be offset by increasing the Climate Action Tax Credit, an income-tested credit distributed by the Canada Revenue Agency. Last year, a two-parent family eligible for the full amount received $500 but this year, the same family could receive up to $900.
In 2023/24, individuals with an income of $39,115 or less will get the credit and families with a household income of $50,170 or less are eligible. The income ceiling for who can receive the tax credit will also raise every year with the goal of providing the credit to 80 per cent of households by 2030.
Provided by: Katie DeRosa for the Vancouver Sun
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