Our priorities must be with our most vulnerable

Posted on December 22, 2020 in Inclusion Debates

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors

The pandemic continues to create significant challenges such as job losses and food insecurity, and it is impacting the mental health of Canadians. The not-for-profit sector has been doing their best to protect those most vulnerable during this crisis, and to meet their individual needs.

However, many community organizations have taken a financial hit this year. This is concerning: now more than ever, our marginalized communities need government, public and private support.

Unfortunately, we are not all in this together. Everyone is feeling the effects of COVID-19 differently — and some are struggling more than others. A “colour-blind approach” to the pandemic will not suffice, especially when reports show racialized minorities suffered from higher poverty rates prior to 2020, and now experience even stronger challenges to making ends meet. It is clear that a “one size fits all” model does not work.

This is why community organizations are so important in this crisis management. They understand the individual needs of the community. These front-line organizations have been working hard at building trust, forming personal relationships, and becoming indispensable partners of government and health workers.

As COVID-19 cases have increased, it is heartening to see municipal leaders step up and take necessary actions by providing additional supports to priority communities. The City of Toronto, for example, has increased partnership with community-based organizations and expanded testing in harder-hit neighbourhoods. They have also called on the provincial and federal governments for additional resources to support education and engagement efforts.

The city has decided not to wait for funding to be approved, beginning the important work of distributing funds to community partners now — and hoping more funding will flow from other levels of government.

Seeing a need for additional resources back in March, the Ontario government invested $200 million in social services relief funding to assist communities in response to the outbreak. Unfortunately, the stimulus has proven to not be enough. A recent report by the Toronto Foundation stated that 60 per cent of organizations surveyed reported their revenue had decreased, with some experiencing declines up to 40 per cent.

Some organizations have had to reduce staff hours and curb much-needed services. Smaller charities have seen a significant decline in revenues. Organizations with less than $500,000 in annual revenue are at high risk of permanent closure. Sadly, the report states that the significant negative impacts on the charitable sector may last more than five years. These organizations that are on the front lines supporting our cities are most vulnerable, and we cannot afford to let them close at this critical time. Lives are at stake.

This is why I am so concerned with reports from the Financial Accountability Office that state that the Ontario COVID-specific contingency funds have increased to $12 billion. Although the government suggests that some of this funding has been allocated, the FAO has stated that given the short time left in this fiscal year “the Province may end the fiscal year with outstanding balances.” They have further noted that any of the remaining funds would “reduce both the budget deficit and Ontario’s net debt.”

The priorities of the provincial government seem clear. I worry that instead of supporting our grassroots organizations, Ontario may look to further reduce the deficit. At this critical time, funding needs to be diverted to municipalities who can distribute money to the very organizations who are delivering urgent care to priority communities. Without significant provincial support from Doug Ford and the Ontario government for 2021, municipalities will be forced to cut front line services and/or increase taxes, which will have an even greater impact on Ontario’s most vulnerable.

Lastly, for those who have means, I strongly urge you to consider funding your local community organizations as well. Most importantly, call out to our elected leaders to introduce more equity-based supports to help our marginalized communities. Without these individuals and groups working on the front lines of our society and economies, the rest of us would be lost.

Ruby Latif is a Toronto-based community mobilizer, Liberal strategist and a contributing columnist for the Star.

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