The province will begin contributing directly to some RESPs within the next 18 months, and will offer a child-care tax credit starting in 2015 – two of only a handful of new spending initiatives announced in a lean budget.
As part of what the Liberal government is calling its B.C. Families Early Years Strategy, any B.C. resident with an RESP for a child born on or after Jan. 1, 2007, may apply for a one-time grant of $1,200 between the child's sixth and seventh birthday.
The initiative – called the B.C. Training and Education Savings Program – is a modified version of the Children's Education Fund, a program created in 2007 under then-premier Gordon Campbell. The move reinforces the Liberal message that the government is family focused.
The CEF had set aside $1,000 for each child born on or after Jan. 1, 2007. That money, as well as the earnings accrued, would have been paid out once the child enrolled in a post-secondary institution in B.C., or 2024 at the earliest.
The approximately $286-million the CEF has accumulated since 2007 will now be used to fund the new program. The government says the grants will cost around $30-million this year, with money beginning to show up in the accounts of the first cohort of children in about 18 months, after changes are made to how RESPs are administered.
"We hope that in establishing that plan for children … parents will contribute something additional," said Finance Minister Michael de Jong.
According to Mr. de Jong, a $50-a-month contribution from parents to an RESP beginning when a child is six will translate into $8,932 by the time the child is 18, assuming 3.5-per-cent growth.
Mr. de Jong said he would have loved to provide more money for students born before Jan. 1, 2007, but the government simply couldn't afford to do that.
As part of the Liberal's three-year fiscal plan, residents will also be able to collect a refundable tax credit for child care starting April 1, 2015.
Families earning below $100,000 per year will receive $55 a month, or $660 annually, for each child under the age of six.
Paul Kershaw, a professor of public policy at UBC, was critical of the government's approach to child-care funding in the new budget, saying that the differences between health-care funding and that of education and child care is pitting generations against one another.
"This budget is failing to see that there is a power dynamic playing out between generations and it is literally pitting grandparents against their kids and grandkids," said Prof. Kershaw, also the founder of the Generation Squeeze Campaign, which aims to make the "generational spending gap" a key issue in the coming election campaign.
Prof. Kershaw questioned why the government was able to find $2.4-billion in health funding, something he says will mostly benefit an older generation, yet so little for child care and education.
He says that the average cost of child care in Canada is between $8,000 and $14,000 per child.
The B.C. government says that when the provincial child-care grant is combined with federal funding, a couple with two children earning $90,000, for example, can expect a total of $4,728 in child-care tax benefits. A single parent earning $50,000 with one child can expect $3,164. "The language is great, the aspiration is beautiful … But this budget really does nothing to reduce the squeeze on income," Prof. Kershaw said.
The Finance Minister said the decision to wait until 2015 to make the child-care tax credit available was due to current financial constraints.