06/12/2012 01:17 EDT | Updated 08/12/2012 05:12 EDT

New vision and dental plan for children of low-income families in New Brunswick

FREDERICTON - The New Brunswick government has introduced an eye-care and dental program for children of low-income families.

Social Development Minister Sue Stultz says the program will provide each eligible child with up to $1,000 for dental care per year, and vision coverage valued at $220 every two years.

The $4.3 million program will help about 22,000 children annually, Stultz told the legislature Tuesday.

"Our government believes we have provided children of low-income families with a dental and vision plan that balances fiscal responsibility while providing meaningful and beneficial coverage."

A family of four with two children would be eligible to receive benefits if their after-tax income is at or below $31,142.

The program begins Sept. 1.

Bernard LeBlanc, the Liberal's social development critic, welcomed the news. However, he said the plan comes 16 months after the deadline set in the province's poverty reduction plan.

"I'm really concerned that poverty, for this government, is on the back burner," he said.

Outside the legislature, Stultz defended the timing.

She said the advisory committee took longer than expected to complete its work, and then both the dentists and optometrists were in contract negotiations.

"We would have liked to have seen it come a little bit sooner, but when you have something that you're working on as large as what this is, you want to ensure that it is for the benefit of the people we are doing it for," Stultz said.