Kathleen Wynne should take fast action on welfare reform

Posted on January 29, 2013 in Social Security Policy Context

TheStar.com – opinion/editorial
January 28, 2013.

Kathleen Wynne may have hit the ground running as Ontario’s new premier-designate, but if she really wants to make a quick mark there’s one issue that’s ripe for attention.

Welfare reform. Wynne declared it one of the top priorities for her new government, along with youth unemployment, public sector wages and the return of extra-curriculars in the province’s schools. And that’s good news, since Ontario’s welfare system is an $8.3-billion mess.

It could take years to tackle high unemployment among young people (hopefully not as long for extra-curricular activities) but social assistance reform has the potential for some quick and valuable fixes, with most at little cost. They would help many welfare recipients take a much-needed step toward the goal of employment.

In the bigger picture, a blueprint for sweeping reform has been sitting at Queen’s Park awaiting a new leader. “Brighter Prospects,” authored by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh, sets out transformational change, with the goal of helping people return to work.

It was heartening that two days after Wynne’s victory as leader of Ontario’s Liberals she called Lankin to express interest in the report. As a goodwill gesture for struggling Ontarians, Wynne could create immediate change with the stroke of a pen.

First, get rid of the rule that forces job-seekers to burn through their entire savings before they qualify for welfare. This rule was created to make social assistance a dreaded last resort. Instead, it makes people destitute.

Next, Wynne could end penalties for those who try to stretch their dollars by bunking with friends. Since most single people on welfare receive $606 a month, it’s clear they need to make every penny count. Some experts believe the deductions for sharing space should be removed entirely, but Lankin says cuts should be limited to a sliding scale based on savings.

Third, allow welfare recipients who find jobs to keep a little bit of their extra income before clawing it back. Even Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak agrees with that. It could cost roughly $30 million a year, but as Hudak says, “We want to reinforce in Ontario the dignity of a job.”

Tackling these changes would send a powerful message that Wynne is a woman of action, not to mention a leader with heart.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/1321140--kathleen-wynne-should-take-fast-action-on-welfare-reform-editorial >

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