5,000 child-care subsidies at risk, city report warns

TheStar.com – GTA/parentcentral.ca – 5,000 child-care subsidies at risk, city report warns
January 1, 2010.   Laurie Monsebraaten, SOCIAL JUSTICE REPORTER

Each new year seems to bring a new child-care crisis for Toronto and 2010 isn’t any different.

City officials say Toronto will be forced to slash 5,000 daycare subsidies over the next two years, if Queen’s Park doesn’t address long-standing underfunding and replace $15.4 million in federal child-care funds set to run out April 1.

The cuts, which could begin as early as July, would reduce Toronto’s current 24,000 subsidies by 21 per cent, officials warn in a new report to the city’s community development and recreation committee, which meets next Friday.

The loss would also seriously destabilize the city’s 55,000-space child-care system at a time when the province is introducing full-day kindergarten and considering the integration of all services for kids from birth to age 12, the report says.

“The situation is very grim,” said Councillor Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York), who chairs the committee. “And if there is no money to help municipalities deal with the impact of all-day learning for 4- and 5-year-olds next fall, the situation will be even worse.”

There are already 16,000 children waiting for child-care subsidies in Toronto. Subsidies are crucial for parents forced into lower paying work or retraining programs as a result of layoffs during the recession, she noted.

About 2,000 subsidy spots are in jeopardy this year and would be cut through attrition; another 3,000 are on the chopping block next year, Davis said.

“Our child-care system is hanging in the balance,” she said. “We are on the brink … By 2012, we need an extra $37 million to prevent a massive reduction in service.”

A spokesperson for provincial Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten said the financial pressures faced by Toronto and other cities, as a result of the federal funding crunch and the start of all-day kindergarten this year, are “absolutely on the minister and ministry’s radar.”

“But as municipalities know … we can’t do it alone. We can’t maintain the progress we’ve made on child care without the federal government coming to the table. We’re continuing to advocate to the feds that this is their responsibility,” said Paris Meilleur.

Federal officials were unavailable Thursday to comment. But past provincial attempts to squeeze more child-care cash from Ottawa have been unsuccessful.

The federal money is part of $252 million in child-care funds Ontario received from Ottawa in 2006 before Prime Minister Stephen Harper ripped up the previous Liberal government’s $5 billion national child-care plan.

Instead of spending all the money that year, Ontario spread it over four years to support about 7,600 new child-care subsidies. The last $63.5 million instalment runs out April 1.

Last summer, Queen’s Park gave municipalities a one-time $18 million grant to keep the subsidies flowing until the end of the current school year. Toronto’s share of that funding was $4.4 million.

But without new money, municipalities say those subsidies will be gone. In addition, more than 5,200 child-care workers will lose wage subsidies, almost 1,300 children with special needs will lose their programs, and about 100 staff who support them will also be out of work, according to a report by the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association in November.

“The federally derived $63.5 million has directly ensured that Ontario’s working poor and lower-middle-income families do not fall into poverty,” says the report.

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