Hot! Price of moving from welfare to work? $400

TheStar.com – news
Published On Wed Dec 14 2011.   Laurie Monsebraaten Social Justice Reporter

All Delon St Clair needed to get off welfare and go to college was $400.

But none of the systems supposed to be helping low-income people escape poverty seemed willing or able to help.

St Clair, 27, was accepted into a one-year applied science and technology course at Seneca College last month, a prerequisite for the college’s firefighter program. His Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan was approved last week.

But his college dreams of training to become a firefighter were dashed when Seneca insisted he make a $400 tuition down payment by Friday or forfeit his place in class.

St Clair’s monthly welfare cheque is just $565 and he had already spent more than $300 of that on December rent for the subsidized apartment he shares with his mother in the Jane-Finch community.

The welfare office wouldn’t help because tuition is covered by OSAP. But his OSAP loan won’t be available until he starts classes on Jan. 9.

St Clair’s employment counsellor doesn’t understand why Seneca and other colleges are suddenly putting the financial squeeze on OSAP students like St Clair, when in the past it was easier to have tuition deposits deferred.

“This is definitely something new and it is a real struggle for my clients who are all on OSAP,” said Nicola Holness, who is with JVS Toronto’s Youth Reach, a program that helps people aged 16 to 30 find work or go back to school.

St Clair never had trouble finding work until the recession hit and he was laid off in 2009. Since then, he has sent out more than 100 job applications, to no avail.

But when Toronto Fire Services held a recruitment fair last winter, he took a course in CPR and set his sights on going back to school to become a firefighter.

“I really want to get off welfare, but I don’t think I can do that unless I go back to school,” he said.

A spokesperson for Seneca College said students have always been required to make a minimum tuition down payment. The college’s associate registrar is available to meet with students to discuss alternate payment arrangements if there are “extenuating circumstances,” added Emily Milic.

Toronto welfare officials say they are starting to see more people in St Clair’s situation as colleges tighten up deposit policies.

But the city’s hands are tied, said Darrin Vermeersch, of Toronto Social Services.

“All we can do is deal with this on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

“This is affecting the poorest of the poor, who can’t access the funds but who could benefit the most,” he added. “Clearly this is not in the best interest of anybody — not the resident, or the government or the taxpayer.”

Late Wednesday, as a result of the Star’s queries, Toronto social services wrote St Clair a cheque for $465 to cover the tuition deposit as well as the late fee. Seneca also offered to meet with him.

St Clair is relieved his financial barrier to college entrance has been lifted. But he wonders if his experience has changed anything.

“I don’t know what this means for other people in my situation,” he said.

< http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1102242–price-of-moving-from-welfare-to-work-400 >

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