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Poverty groups seek boost to child benefit

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OTTAWA—A national coalition of anti-poverty groups is asking the Trudeau government to boost the basic amount it provides in child benefits in hopes of cutting child poverty rates in Canada in half by the end of the decade.

The coalition wants the government to change the rules so those earning less can keep more of the benefit, and to increase payments with the cost of living, retroactive to when the new benefit was first introduced last July.

The goal would be to reduce child poverty rates by 50 percent by 2020, the group Campaign 2000 says in a written submission to the Trudeau government as part of federal consultations on a national anti-poverty strategy.

Anita Khanna, the group's national co-ordinator, also wants the government to consider more lucrative employment insurance benefits, including for new parents, and further expand job training programs.

Such measures, among others, would help to rework the social safety net to help more people climb out of poverty and contribute more to the economy, Khanna said in an interview.

“Any time spent in poverty in childhood is too long," she stressed. ”It does have detrimental effects through the life cycle.

“This is a real cornerstone piece for us and the government has hung a lot on the [Canada Child Benefit], as well,” Khanna added.

The government is spending roughly $23 billion on the benefit—billed as a key weapon in the fight against child poverty.

The average family receives about $2,300 more per year compared to the tax credits and benefits it replaced, the Liberals say.

The parliamentary budget watchdog has warned fewer families will qualify for the benefit unless its levels are tied to inflation, which would ensure its buying power (the so-called “real value”) doesn't erode over time.

The government's internal calculations show the child poverty rate this year would drop to between 11.7 and 13 percent as defined by the low-income measure (less than half of the median national household income).

That measure is used internationally to compare poverty rates between countries.

In absolute terms, that means 213,000 fewer children would be living in poverty than in 2013, or 199,000 fewer children based on 2014 data, says a November briefing note to Social Development minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Those impacts are below the estimates of almost 300,000 children the Liberals have touted using a different benchmark: the low-income cut-off.

“This is normal because the [low-income measure] is a measure of poverty relative to how the rest of the population is doing,” the briefing note says in explaining the difference.

Campaign 2000's report also urges the government to take a second look at eligibility requirements to ensure immigration status doesn't act as a barrier to support.

Permanent and temporary residents who have been in Canada for at least 18 months can receive the child benefit, but not so for some sponsored spouses.

“There's no real logic to the current practice,” Khanna said.

“If the principle is that money should go to children who require it, there are some who are being arbitrarily denied it based on their parents status,” she noted.

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