Fee assistance program hailed as a "success story"

By Sam Borsato - @BorsatoSam on Twitter
February 13, 2017 - 5:22pm

LETHBRIDGE - The City of Lethbridge fee assistance program is proving successful for low-income residents.
It provides up to $150 per person for one recreation or culture program in each the spring (Jan. to June) and fall (July to Dec.). Eligible Lethbridge residents must "have an income that is below Statistics Canada's Low Income Cut-Off (LICO)", or prove that they are involved in any of the following:
- assured income for the severely handicapped;
- Lethbridge housing authority, or similar housing programs;
- provincial income support program;
- refugee status;
- currently on employment insurance. 
City council started the fee assistance program in late 2015, allocating $90,000 a year towards it in the 2015-2018 budget.
In 2016, all 1,062 people who applied for assistance were able to register for programs. The funding was used for anything from guitar lessons to yoga classes offered by 74 local organizations, but it was most popularly used to access family swim passes.
"For a lot of people who their income is low, or the cost of a class is prohibitive, they will sometimes isolate or not do healthy things with their life," noted Lori Harasem, City recreation and culture manager.
"So, being able to go out some place and participate in the community, they feel like they belong in the community... If you're going to CASA every week for a class, you get to know the staff, you get to know the building. It becomes a part of who you are and it becomes something you look forward to."
As part of the requirements, applicants are not allowed to use the funding towards transportation costs. Harasem says she does hear from some people that they want to participate in certain programs, but its too far away and transportation is far too costly. Councillors seemed to agree on Monday (Feb. 13), however, that a change may be necessary.
"As Councillor Carlson explained, there is actually a sub-committee of the Vibrant Lethbridge committee that is also looking at this issue, as far as overarching poverty in Lethbridge, not just with access to recreation and culture. Ultimately, they will probably do all the work to help support bringing that data back to council," Harasem went on to explain.
City funding for the program is set to end with the latest budget in 2018, but Harasem hopes it will again be supported by council in the next budget, and for many years after that.
"To me, this is personally my dream come true because I get to see the impact it makes on so many people... So, to know that council is pleased with how things have gone and is continuing to back it -- and even exploring new options potentially -- is really a sign of the success story this program has been."

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