Don’t slash foodassistance

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Sun Aug 22 2010

In March, the province announced that it intended to replace a food supplement program for eligible welfare recipients because it was “not sustainable” and “not achieving the intended results.” Now, Ontario’s most needy are waiting to see what the new program will look like when it is introduced as early as next month.

But the government has yet to reach out with any formal consultations among advocacy groups — let alone with the poor who will be directly affected. That has fed fears that Queen’s Park is not interested in producing a better program, just a cheaper one.

Such a move would hurt some of Ontario’s most vulnerable — those who suffer the twin scourges of poverty and illness — without even succeeding in saving any money.

Ontario’s special diet allowance currently provides $10 to $250 a month to some 165,000 welfare and disability support recipients, enabling them to buy specialized foods to better manage medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Restricting their access to those extra funds by tightening the rules will only make them poorer and, consequently, sicker. All that does is transfer the costs, plus additional ones, from the welfare budget to the health-care budget.

Surely the government recognizes it is better to improve someone’s ability to manage their illness through proper diet than it is to sit back and wait for them to arrive in a hospital emergency room.

It is understandable that a government already running a substantial deficit would have concerns about a program whose costs have risen dramatically — from $6 million to $221 million since 2003.

But the underlying problem is not the design of program itself or the alleged fraud suggested by the provincial auditor last fall in a report the government seized on. It is need.

At $585 a month for a single person, the current welfare rate is clearly inadequate to keep a roof overhead and buy food — let alone nutritious food.

For it to do any good to anyone — including taxpayers — the new program must meet the needs of those it purports to serve: welfare and disability support recipients with medical conditions. It is difficult to see how that can be achieved without, the two ministers involved — health and social services — talking to them.

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