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Politics Ottawa promotes increase in student grants in time for back to school

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The federal government was out promoting an increase to its student grant program on Tuesday, but more changes are in store for the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

Science Minister Kirsty Duncan was at Humber College in Toronto Tuesday touting an increase in the grants program that amounts to $1.5 billion over five years, with $684 million budgeted for this year and next.

The increase means a 50 per cent increase in grants: up to $3,000 for low-income students and up to $1,200 a year for middle-income students.

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The Liberals are helping to pay for the measure by eliminating the textbook tax credits the previous Conservative government introduced. That move is expected to save $550 million over the next two years.

Students with outstanding federal loans are going to have to wait until November for changes to the repayment assistance plan to kick in and eliminate payments for anyone earning under $25,000 a year.

Student groups had hoped the federal government would set that income bar at $35,000, but were disappointed to see the lower figure in the first Liberal budget.

The changes are a precursor to more alterations the federal government plans for the program.

What the government wants to introduce is a new eligibility model that would replace existing income thresholds to define low- and middle-income students with a single, progressive threshold over which grant amounts would decline based on income and family size.

The Liberals are also in talks with provinces and territories to ease eligibility criteria for student grants and loans by making it easier for students to work without fearing that the extra cash will mean less financial aid.

The idea would also target adult learners, many of whom work while studying, or have what departmental officials call significant financial assets like homes or cars that would decrease the amount they can receive through a loan or grant.

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The federal budget said the promise would be implemented in time for the start of school in 2017 and would cost $267.7 million over four years.

In an email, Employment and Social Development Canada said talks between the federal, provincial and territorial governments appear on track to have the changes in place in a year.

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