Alberta puts focus on training people for employment

New program aims to move 40,000 adults into the workforce through academic upgrading, language courses and job skills training

The Alberta government has launched a new program aimed at helping the unemployed find, train for and keep jobs.

The program, Alberta Works, will also support people when they move into the workforce, help families cover their basic costs of living and help employers get the skilled workers they need, according to the province.

“In a province where employers are calling for more skilled workers, we will help more unemployed Albertans take their place in the workforce,” said Clint Dunford, Minister of Alberta Human Resources and Employment.

The program will also harmonize the benefits provided through three programs — Supports for Independence (SFI), Skills Development Program (SDP) living allowances and Widows’ Pension.

Alberta Works will replace SFI beginning with the May 2004 benefit period, and SDP for continuing and new students starting a training term after July 31, 2004. New Widows’ Pension applications will not be accepted after March 31, 2004, as assistance will be provided to eligible people through Alberta Works. People currently receiving Widows’ Pension benefits will continue to receive them for two years.

The province said it is spending $617 million in 2004-05 on the initiative, which it calls a cost-neutral program designed to produce better results. Of the total budget, $245 million will help about 40,000 adults get the academic upgrading, language courses or job skills training they need to move into the workforce.

About $281 million will be budgeted for income support to another 31,000 families. And $86 million will be put into Alberta Works health benefits, and $4 million will provide child support services to help low-income parents get child support orders and agreements.

New benefits have been introduced to support the 56,000 people who will rely on Alberta Works to cover their living costs either because they are training for employment or are unable to provide for themselves or their families:

•Adults in upgrading courses or skills training can now earn more money and receive full benefits. Previously earnings above $200 a month affected overall benefits; now people can earn $230 and receive full benefits, while earnings beyond that amount only partially affects benefits. Couples without children who are getting short-term assistance will see their household earnings exemption double from $115 per household to $115 per adult.

•Parents who have relatives babysit while they work, train or search for a job will receive up to $150 per month to pay for the care of their child. Existing daycare subsidies will continue.

•People fleeing domestic violence will be provided an additional $1,000 to help them set up a new household and make a fresh start. Other emergency assistance such as covering the cost of travel to a place of safety, damage deposit and a motel when needed will continue.

•People who live with relatives may receive a new shelter benefit of $100 a month.

“Beyond a paycheque, there is an inherent and redeeming value in work,” said Dunford. “The vast majority of people receiving income support would rather be working, and there are many employers who want to give them a chance. Through Alberta Works we can, and will, play a greater role in bringing these two groups together.”

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