CAPRA Gives Input on 2017 City Budget

In December of 2016, CAPRA was grateful to be invited to give input to the City of Red Deer’s 2017 budget. We reflected on the overall budget and provided to the City Manager and Council some thoughts.
Here is the full content of the letter:
Dear Mr. Curtis,
Thank you for the opportunity afforded to the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance (CAPRA), to review and comment on the City of Red Deer’s 2017 Operating Budget. The PowerPoint slides you provided were helpful to CAPRA members in understanding the issues and opportunities facing the community.
CAPRA is interested in providing comment in the following areas:
Community Health Impact
There is much research showing the link between poverty and health outcomes. CAPRA is very appreciative of the City’s fee assistance program. We hope this program will be expanded to include everyone with an income less than living wage, which was recently recalculated by CAPRA as being $29,102 annually, for a lone parent family with one child, $28,504 for a couple with two children, and $28,236 per year for an individual with no children.
Additionally, your PowerPoint presentation referenced the possibility of a local treatment centre. We would be interested to learn more about these plans.
Economic Impact
We concur that the economy has contracted significantly, which has impacted many citizens that were once financially stable. We are aware that Red Deer has a high percentage of small businesses and consultants working on contract; these companies and individuals are not eligible for unemployment insurance during this prolonged economic downturn. In addition, the Alberta Labour Force stats for November show Red Deer having the second highest unemployment rate, which jumped more than 2 percentage points in the last 12 months, means that there are more vulnerable families living in our community than ever before; relative poverty is on the rise. While it sometimes does not take long for individuals and families to fall into poverty, it can be a long and arduous process to dig out. CAPRA is interested in collaborating with the City to ensure that policy, procedural, and/or fees related barriers that can trap Red Deerians in poverty are removed.
One of the first things to be jeopardized when economic times get tough is food security. Red Deer has seen a dramatic rise in food bank and food program usage over the last two years. The City is providing important education on food waste and food insecurity through its website and through initiatives such as Feed the 500. CAPRA looks forward to the opportunity to participate in more such initiatives.
Social Impact
CAPRA appreciates that the City considers different perspectives when developing its budget, to ensure sustainability in all factors impacting the wellbeing of its citizens. The social policy framework has been useful in understanding the City’s role in this regional poverty reduction initiative. Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) has provided CAPRA a three-year grant to further build this community-led initiative throughout the region. In addition, Social Planning and Transportation staff continue to be actively involved with the Alliance. As you know, we’ve advocated for further involvement by Mayor Veer, City Council and yourself to advance poverty reduction strategies that will have broader impact. The community and our alliance needs and appreciates leadership on reducing poverty and improving citizen well-being. We look forward to working in closer partnership with the City management and elected officials to meet these objectives. For example, the shared advocacy work on payday lending that CAPRA and City officials undertook in 2015-2016 is an example of how this partnership has enabled real change. We continue to advocate that the City consider its bylaws to restrict the location and density of these businesses, and work with us and the community’s financial sector to explore alternatives to payday lenders and find ways to improve financial literacy.
The Great Neighbours Program is a wonderful tool for building social and community capacity, and will support Red Deerians to become even more resourceful and self-reliant. CAPRA is enthusiastic about the potential opportunities for poverty reduction that this program may realize.
Environmental Impact
Red Deer has a fabulous park system with year-round accessible no-charge opportunities for all, yet we were pleased to see a freeze on fees for Recreation, Parks and Culture and Transit. This will help many families access these resources. Although an increase in the Fee Assistance Program would be a positive development, many of the families who only recently found themselves unable to meet the financial needs of their family, do not meet the criteria for the Fee Assistance Program. As for public transit, we understand that without further investment by the provincial government that there is limitations on how this system can be more accessible. Further to the advocacy to the provincial government in the summer of 2016 around transit subsidy for low income residents we would welcome the opportunity for continued advocacy with the provincial government for transit subsidies.
We thank you for the continued investment of the 211 system to ensure all citizens, regardless of language, have access to information on the services in their community. Furthermore, the 211 service allows social programs to focus on their mandate and their collaborative relationships to ensure a comprehensive system of supports.
Although CAPRA has not become actively involved in the Plan to End Homelessness, several members are involved with both initiatives. We understand that there continues to be challenges in ensuring all residents have access to affordable housing or a Housing First unit. We will monitor the impact that the Integrated Housing Framework
has on vulnerable families, seniors and an overextended social services sector. Fortunately, through continued advocacy the provincial government has become further involved in the new Framework and is now directly funding the warming shelter.
Cultural Impact
Social and cultural diversity are important to Red Deer, and the City has shown leadership in many ways, including the development, and making permanent, of the Human Resource Specialist – Diversity & Inclusion position. The City has facilitated the collaboration of a new network to deal with Red Deer being Welcoming and Inclusive. The focus of this network is to work together to address the issues of racism and inequality. From a poverty perspective this addresses quality of life for individuals, especially those who feel that they do not have a voice.
CAPRA looks forward to a strengthened relationship between the City and the Aboriginal community, along with the immigrant and refugee populations.
CAPRA and the City of Red Deer are working well together to reduce poverty and improve well-being for all citizens, and we look forward to an even stronger collaboration in 2017. Please consider meeting with members of the CAPRA backbone team to discuss these comments and explore opportunities in more detail.