Ontario gives with one hand, takes with the other

Posted on in Social Security Policy Context

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Social assistance recipients are reeling from an $8 drop in their monthly benefit.
Jul 31 2014.  By: Carol Goar, Star Columnist

Single parents who depend on social assistance are in for a jolt. Their basic needs allowance will drop by $8 this month.

The reduction, effective Aug. 1, applies to both Ontario Works (commonly known as welfare) and the Ontario Disability Support program. Together they provide financial assistance to approximately 170,000 families.

There was no mention of this in Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s July 14 budget. He told social assistance recipients their rates would be going up by 1 per cent. That is true, but it won’t happen until Oct. 1. Right now provincial officials are implementing the latest phase of their “rate restructuring” plan.

It was launched six years ago after former premier Dalton McGuinty announced a new Ontario Child Benefit targeted at low-income families. Its value was slated to rise each year.

The benefit has indeed grown — from $250 a year per child in 2007 to $1,310 on July 1, 2014. But it comes with a catch: every time the Ontario Child Benefit goes up, the parent’s basic needs allowance goes down by a commensurate amount.

To policy-makers, this makes perfect sense. It takes children off the welfare rolls and encourages their parents to get a job.

To parents struggling to make ends meet, it makes no sense whatsoever. The province gives with one hand and takes with the other, leaving them no better off. In fact, they lose ground because the cost of living is rising faster than social assistance rates.

According to John Stapleton of Open Policy Ontario, which tracks financial support for families in need, welfare incomes adjusted for inflation have dropped by 34 per cent since the Liberals took power in 2003. Disability support payments have fallen by 14 per cent.

It took awhile for low-income parents to recognize the discrepancy between the government’s words and actions.

As far as they are concerned, the social assistance system is an incomprehensible maze in which bad things happen for no apparent reason. Most Ontarians are equally confused. The rules are bewilderingly complex, they keep changing and they vary from one client to the next. The only people who seem to know what’s going on are bureaucrats who run the system, the directors of large service agencies, a few legal aid specialists and a handful of low-income advocates.

This has allowed the governing Liberals to portray themselves as champions of the poor.

They are less punitive than the Conservatives who chopped welfare rates by 21.6 per cent under former premier Mike Harris and kept them frozen for eight years. But both McGuinty and Premier Kathleen Wynne have steadfastly ignored pleas by the province’s poorest citizens to put food in the budget; provide a shelter allowance; or bring welfare rates ($11,184 a year for a single parent with a child under 18) up to Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off ($22,831 for a two-person household in Toronto).

What Ontario’s last two premiers have done instead is appoint panels and commissions, hold consultations, tinker with the rules and make it clear that social assistance recipients — except those with severe disabilities — are expected to work.

Sousa’s latest budget is an example:

It raises social assistance rates for families by 1 per cent. (Inflation is currently running at 2.4 per cent).

It allows social assistance recipients to earn up to $200 a month without losing their benefits. “This will allow them to gain a foothold in the labour force.”

It relaxes the rule requiring social assistance applicants to liquidate their assets — bank savings, a car, work tools, family heirlooms — to get help.

It permits social assistance recipients to accept gifts of up to $6,000 without being penalized.

It expands the province’s student nutrition program in low-income neighbourhoods.

And it indexes Ontario’s $11 per hour minimum wage.

Wynne described it as the “most progressive budget in decades.” Sadly, she’s right, but only because the standard slipped so far under Harris and McGuinty. In terms of real relief for the poor, her government’s economic blueprint contained little.

Social assistance recipients barely raised their voices, knowing it would be futile.

Times are tough for everyone. People are less generous than they once were. Ontario’s tradition of caring for the disadvantaged and vulnerable has faded.

One hope remains. Wynne is to unveil a new poverty reduction plan this fall. The province’s poorest parents dream it will allow them to pay the rent and feed the kids.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/07/31/ontario_gives_with_one_hand_takes_with_the_other_goar.html >

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One Response to “Ontario gives with one hand, takes with the other”

  1. It is very disheartening to read an article like this because it provides further reinforcement that people are currently still struggling with much of the same economic disadvantages as they were in the 1990’s when the Canada Assistance Plan was abolished (White, 2006, p. 10). Since then individuals social security has been fragmented which has further disadvantaged many of the same populations and this article is a perfect example of that. Single parent families in Ontario currently do not even reach Statistics Canada’s low income cut off line and Finance Minister Sousa’s 2014 budget is dropping their Ontario Works benefit another $8/month? This is utterly outrageous and what irks me even more, is that the people who were affected by the cutback were told their rates would go up by 1%! Of course, “in their defense” (not really), this was true as it would go up, but does that really matter at this point considering even with this increase, it still won’t allow these families to feel completely secure? On top of that how can anyone believe anything any government says when this shows they would rather be dishonest.
    Moving forward I think it’s important that we call out our politicians and seek the reasons why they claim to have “society’s well-being and economic prosperity at heart” but yet, things keep getting worse. To be quite frank, it’s disgusting how the Premier will not listen to the provinces cries from the poorest people about their situations and that Ms. Wynne & her constituents continually ignore them. How are these actions demonstrating that our nation of Canada is about the people and has a goal to aid in eliminating poverty? It’s quite tiring actually that we are still discussing poverty as an issue as it has been part of the political agenda to eradicate it by the year 2000 and yet, it’s still being talked about. As economically developed of a nation as we are this ought to be quite embarrassing. This is where we as a community of people need to put our foot down and refuse to accept the mentality and ideologies the government is attempting to impose on us. The Liberals have no business in stating “that they have championed the poor” when in fact they have done the complete opposite and leave them vulnerable and unprotected. It’s hard to have trust in your government when all they do is exert their power over you by having the rich few making decisions for the many poor, and then when these decisions are finalized and people are upset they just appease people by instilling minor changes that will really have no affect at all. It is evident that this entire economic system of making money off the poor is really only a benefit to affluent individuals and I think it is time that the federal government began honoring their UN Covenant rights of economic, social and cultural well-being of all individuals, as this would be another infraction specifically to Article 9. Not impressive Ontario, not impressive at all.

    Kristin Michaud

    White, K.G. (2006). The Economic and Political Determinants of Provincial Social Assistance Rates in Canada (master thesis). Retrived from Proquest.

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