Ontario doubles payout for low-income children

Posted on March 21, 2009 in Child & Family Policy Context, Governance Debates, Social Security Debates

TheStar.com – news/parentcentral.ca – Ontario doubles payout for low-income children
March 21, 2009.   Tanya Talaga, QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU

The Ontario child benefit available to low-income families will nearly double to $1,100 a year beginning in July, Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday.

The Liberals had planned on increasing the monthly child benefit by 2011 as part of their anti-poverty reduction strategy, but accelerated the payout to help families during the economic downturn, he told a news conference at the Cabbagetown Youth Centre. The government promised four months ago to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent in five years, but said that federal funding and a strong economy were required to reach the target.

Anti-poverty advocates have been watching closely to see whether the Liberals, facing a projected $18 billion deficit over two years, will deliver. Yesterday’s announcement increases the maximum child benefit to $92 from $50 per child, per month. About 465,000 families with a total of 960,000 children receive a monthly payment, with the maximum annual benefit currently $600. The maximum benefit is available to families earning less than $20,000 a year.

Other lower-income families can qualify for a portion of the benefit, depending on the number of children.

The government’s actions are encouraging signs, said Jacquie Maund, a spokesperson for the 25 in 5 Network for poverty reduction – a coalition of organizations committed to fighting poverty.

“The increase to the child benefit to $92 a month will be a real help to families in this time of economic downturn.

“We are pleased to see that,” Maund said.

“We are also encouraged to see the government is stepping up to the plate in terms of money for affordable housing – a pressing need for families.”

Now, she said, it is time to look to the March 26 budget to see if the government will commit to more money for child care and an increase to social assistance. A single person on Ontario Works, or welfare, gets about $572 a month.

McGuinty also announced yesterday the province will invest $620 million to match federal funds to renovate 50,000 social housing units and build 4,500 new affordable housing units.

Arlene Clarke, who attended the news conference, said the move to increase the child benefit will give her extra money to spend or save on her 8-year-old son.

“I think of my son’s future. This is not money for me,” said Clarke.

The investment in social and affordable housing is expected to create nearly 23,000 jobs.

McGuinty did not specify where the housing units would be built or renovated, but said more housing for seniors and those living with disabilities will be a priority.

There are at least 130,000 households, families and single people on a waiting list for affordable housing, said Sharad Kerur, executive director of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, which represents 760 non-profit housing organizations in Ontario in 220 communities.

Wait times in Toronto range from five to 12 years and in Peel Region it can be 15 to 20 years.

“There is no one level of government that can fix it all. It has to be a range of solutions,” Kerur said.

Ontario’s $620 million is a welcome help, he added.

Devastating job losses in the manufacturing and auto sectors have left Ontario with an 8.7 per cent unemployment rate, higher than the national average of 7.7 per cent.

The recession’s bite can be seen in Ontario’s welfare caseload. As of last month, there were 214,363 Ontario Works cases in total – the highest since 2000.

“People lose their jobs, then they lose other things,” Kerur said.

“The home is eventually on that list. If you say one in five people in Ontario spend more than 50 per cent of their income on rent, well, as soon as you lose your job you lose income.”


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