Welfare rate freeze really a cut, activists say

Posted on April 1, 2012 in Social Security Debates

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TheStar.com – news/canada/politics – Ontario budget 2012:
Published On Tue Mar 27 2012.   Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter

For Sharon Norman, Ontario’s budget plan to freeze welfare rates this year is proof the McGuinty government was never really committed to cutting poverty.

“What was the point of all of those meetings and consultations on a poverty reduction strategy anyway?” she said Tuesday, referring to the province’s 2008 plan to cut child poverty by 25 per cent in five years.

The welfare freeze means Norman and some 880,000 other adults and children living on Ontario works and the Ontario Disability Support Program will be squeezed even more by inflationary increases in food, rent and other necessities.

With the latest Consumer Price Index pegged at 2.9 per cent over last year, the freeze is, in fact, a cut, anti-poverty activists say.

Norman, who has been looking for office work since 2009 when her husband left and the economy tanked, struggles to survive on $599 a month from Ontario Works.

“A lot of the order desk and reception jobs have moved north of the city. I don’t drive. I can’t even get to an interview,” said the 51-year-old Toronto woman.

As a volunteer at a west-end food bank, Norman receives an extra $100 a month to pay for transportation. But all of that extra money goes toward paying her $690 monthly rent.

With just $9 remaining, she is forced to rely on meals from soup kitchens and groceries from food banks. And with no money for TTC fare, she has no option but to spend hours a day walking across town to food banks, volunteer activities and appointments.

She knows she should try to find a cheaper apartment, but after losing so much, she can’t bare to lose her home too.

“It is safe and clean and as a single woman, I can’t imagine moving,” she says, tearing up.

Norman was also shocked at the budget’s plan next January to eliminate two benefits that help people on welfare with urgent housing-related expenses once every 24 months. The community start-up and maintenance benefit covers expenses such as the cost of replacing a bed-bug-infested mattress or moving. The home repair benefit pays for emergency plumbing, roof patching and damage due to fire or flooding.

Half of the $120 million annual spending from the two benefits will go to municipal housing and homelessness initiatives available to all low-income Ontarians.

But anti-poverty advocates said the move cuts an already small pie in half and spreads what’s left even thinner.

In addition, the budget is also capping health-related discretionary benefits for adults on Ontario Works, which pays for things like funerals, glasses and emergency dental care. The measure will save $14 million this year and $20 million next year

The welfare cuts in Tuesday’s budget are on top of the previously announced $90 million in budget savings achieved by delaying a hike in the Ontario Child Benefit to the province’s poorest children.

Norman, who is part of Put Food in the Budget, a group calling on the McGuinty government to introduce a $100 nutritious food benefit, can’t understand why the province’s most vulnerable are being forced to bear an even heavier burden.

“How do they expect people to survive?” she asked. “It’s beyond me.”

< http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1152810–ontario-budget-2012-welfare-rate-freeze-really-a-cut-activists-say >

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