Misstep on child benefit

TheStar.com – comment/editorial – Misstep on child benefit
May 05, 2008

In last year’s budget, the Ontario government promised “a transformative era in social policy” by fundamentally changing how benefits are paid to children in low-income families.

The centrepiece of this new approach was the Ontario Child Benefit, under which some 1.3 million children in low income families would be helped whether their parents were working or on social assistance.

This July the benefit rises to $600 annually, paid in $50 monthly installments. But the benefit will not be applied equally. That is because the government will claw back part of the benefit for the 200,000 kids whose families are on social assistance by reducing the monthly welfare cheques to their parents.

Thus, despite the government’s assurances to the contrary, no family on social assistance will net the full $50 a month from the child benefit this year. Many will get as little as $24 a month.

As well, families on social assistance will no longer be getting a $134 per child back-to-school allowance at the end of August and a $111 per child winter clothing allowance in November. That money has also been restructured and spread out over the whole year, so families get an extra $15 to $20 a month. They are expected to put that money aside to pay for these big expenses later. But social assistance rates are already so low that families have no room to save.

Moving child benefits out of the basic welfare program is in principle a good step that recognizes society’s responsibility to help low-income families no matter the source of their income.

But denying families on social assistance the full benefit that their “working poor” counterparts receive is unfair to the kids. And expecting their parents to be able to save is unrealistic.

The Liberal government at Queen’s Park is putting together a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy for the province. A good place to start would be rethinking these measures.

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