Changes to social assistance ‘far-reaching and fundamental’
TheStar.com – news/Queen’s Park – Ontario budget 2013: The Ontario Liberals’ budget includes $400 million over three years to begin transforming the welfare system.
May 02 2013. By: Laurie Monsebraaten Social justice reporter
Anti-poverty activists are welcoming the Wynne government’s “first steps” to transform Ontario’s $8.3 billion welfare system into a program that helps more people, including the disabled, escape poverty through employment.
However, they want NDP Leader Andrea Horwath to push the Liberals during budget negotiations to increase the Ontario child benefit by $200 per child this year to $1,310 as originally promised in the its five-year poverty reduction plan.
The Liberals are proposing to increase the benefit by just $100 this July and by another $100 in July 2014, as announced last year.
“There are a lot of very positive measures in this budget,” said Sarah Blackstock of the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction.
“But the failure to increase the child benefit to the maximum this year is of great concern,” she said. “The full increase is what is needed to make sure we meet the target of reducing child poverty by 25 per cent by the end of the year.”
The proposed Liberal budget would invest $400 million over three years to get started on a welfare reform blueprint submitted last fall by former NDP cabinet minister Frances Lankin and former Statistics Canada head Munir Sheikh.
Among the measures Finance Minister Charles Sousa called “far-reaching and fundamental,” is a proposal to allow people to keep the first $200 they earnproposal to allow people to keep the first $200 they earn before triggering claw-backs. Currently, they lose 50 cents of every dollar they earn.
The move would immediately put more money in the pockets of about 57,000 people on social assistance who have earnings, the budget says. But the initiative is aimed at encouraging more of the 500,000 adults on social assistance to ease into work.
“People deserve to keep more of the money they earn through their hard work,” Sousa told the legislature.
Toronto single mother Christian Garate, 29, who struggles to support her family on welfare for the disabled, praised the proposal.
“Allowing people on social assistance to keep $200 is fantastic,” she said. “You can save $100 for a rainy day and use the other $100 to catch up on bills,” she said.
Garate used to work three jobs. But in 2011 she suffered a break down when her children — ages 12, 7 and 5 — were diagnosed with learning disabilities and emotional problems and her spousal relationship ended.
Garate is disappointed the Liberals are not prepared to raise the child benefit by the full amount this year and said the budget’s proposed 1-per-cent welfare rate increase won’t help her family escape poverty.
It would mean an increase of just $16 to her monthly $1,626 Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) cheque.
“Any increase is good,” she says. “But the cost of everything is going up so fast.”
The budget also proposes an additional $14 monthly top-up for single people on Ontario Works, who receive the lowest monthly rate of $606. The change would amount to a 3-per-cent increase, or $20 more a month for them.
If the budget passes, cash and other liquid-asset limits for people who receive Ontario Works would be quadrupled to $2,500 “so they have more financial security,” Sousa said in his budget speech. Couples would be able to keep assets of $5,000.
It is the first step toward aligning asset limits in Ontario Works with those in the Ontario Disability Support Program, which allows assets of $5,000 for singles and $7,500 for couples, finance ministry officials said.
In addition, those on Ontario Works would be able to keep gifts of up to $6,000 a year without affecting their eligibility for assistance, as is currently allowed for those on ODSP.
If approved, the budget would also remove the $10,000 restriction on the value of a primary vehicle for those on social assistance so they can continue to use their car or truck for employment.
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