Anti-poverty activists rally behind Hamilton MPP’s social assistance bill

Hamilton Spectator – News – Program would set the stage for social assistance recipients to receive payments more consistent with living costs
Jan 30, 2017.   By Mark McNeil

Local anti-poverty activists are rallying in support of a heldup private member’s bill from MPP Paul Miller that would create a research commission to advise the government about social assistance rates.

A local initiative called Fix the Gap has launched a postcard writing campaign and website, among other efforts, to press the Liberal government at Queen’s Park to enact the bill that would set the stage for Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients to receive payments that are more consistent with the cost of living.

An earlier version of Bill 6 introduced by Miller — called Bill 185 — died on the order paper last September after the government prorogued the legislature. It had passed second reading and was being reviewed by a standing committee when it died.

Miller then quickly reintroduced the bill, after the legislature resumed, and it passed second reading again ending up at the standing committee — where it waits.

“It’s been stalled for months,” Miller said. “It got sent to committee and it has lingered in committee ever since. They have no intention of dealing with it.”

Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin, who sits on the committee and represents the riding Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, could not be reached for comment.

In 2007, the Liberal MPP McMeekin introduced a similar private member’s bill called the Ontario Social Assistance Rates Act, but it died on the order paper as well.

Laura Cattari, campaign co-ordinator of Fix the Gap, said, “From what we understand there is no current appetite to bring it further.”

Cattari says the bill would be particularly beneficial in Hamilton where an estimated 30,000 people receive social assistance.

Currently, a single person receives only $681 a month under Ontario Works which is usually not enough for rent, let alone food, clothing and other essentials. And consequently municipalities end up offsetting the shortfall by increasing reliance on local social services, she said.

In December, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger wrote to the standing committee, saying: “On behalf of the city of Hamilton, I respectfully urge the Standing Committee on Social Policy to promptly move ahead with hearings on Bill 6.”

Miller, who represents the riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek for the NDP, says he introduced the bill out of concern for so many of his constituents living in poverty who are finding it impossible to make ends meet while receiving social assistance.

A key feature of the bill would be establishing an expert panel to clarify differences in the cost of living in different regions of the province.

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