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Ontario Budget 2013: Poverty Reduction Must Remain the Priority

Category: Social Assistance Reform

For Immediate Release: May 2, 2013

Budget commitments a start… Poverty Reduction must remain the priority.

Several poverty-related measures were announced in today’s Ontario budget: including increasing social assistance rates by 1% (as well as an additional $14 monthly increase for singles on Ontario Works) and increasing earnings exemptions for those on social assistance that are able to work. However, the changes do not go far enough to address the crisis facing many families in Ontario living who live in deep poverty.

Close to 55,000 children, women and men in Hamilton rely on Ontario social assistance benefits; however rates are so desperately low that many families are not able to afford basic necessities.

Today a single person on Ontario Works receives only $606/month – an amount that does not come close to meeting the actual costs of rental housing, food, utilities, personal needs or other necessities. Today’s budget announcement will increase rates for a single person on Ontario works by $20/month.

Many Hamiltonians are going hungry: Seventy-five percent of all people using food banks in the city are on provincial social assistance programs. The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and community partners have called upon the provincial government to overhaul Ontario’s outdated social assistance system. The Roundtable urged the government to immediately increase rates by $100/month and to commit to establishing an evidence-based system for setting rates – based on the real costs of living.

Changes to asset levels and earnings will have an impact: “Creating logical transitions from poverty to prosperity; ones that improve the health of an individual and the community” says Roundtable member and ODSP recipient, Laura Cattari.

“Today’s budget’s was a first step, an acknowledgement that recipients have been living in deep poverty for far too long” says Peter Hutton, chair of the Roundtable’s social assistance working group. “We look forward to working with the government and all political parties to ensure real social assistance reform remains a priority”.

For Hamilton and other communities, there does not appear to be an initial announcement to reverse last year’s cuts to Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefits or Discretionary Health benefits–critical programs intended to prevent homelessness and maintain health. Hamilton organizations led a campaign last December that saw the provincial government commit $42 million in transitional funds to cover the cuts for 2013. “With no further provincial commitments, the future of those programs will be placed in crisis once again at the end of this year” said Tom Cooper, Director of the Roundtable.