Critics blast Ontario's one-per-cent hike to welfare
TORONTO - A single mother with two young children in Ontario will see her welfare payments rise by $120 a year this fall as part of a one per cent hike to the province's social services budget, an increase critics characterized as meagre at best.
The $57-million increase for basic needs and shelter for adults in Thursday's provincial budget along with tax credits announced last year means that the full increase for such a family is $1,560 a year, the government said.
A single person's welfare cheque will rise $6 a month, under the increases that bring Ontario's social assistance spending to more than $500 million.
Kyle Vose, of Toronto, said the increase to his disability payment will make little difference in his day-to-day life.
"For me that's pretty well like maybe a week's laundry, that's about it," he said. "Maybe a couple loaves of bread. That's all you're getting. It doesn't really amount to much."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government has abandoned any pretence of dealing with Ontario's poor, especially when inflation and the looming harmonized sales tax are factored in.
"The one per cent, I think, is obviously inadequate and it does nothing to actually deal with what the government -- in the past at least -- claimed was one of their priorities, which is poverty reduction," Horwath said.
Jackie Maund, with the non-profit anti-poverty coalition Campaign 2000, said social assistance rates are already "seriously inadequate" and this year's increase does not remedy that.
"This budget basically means that low-income families are just treading water," she said. "There's no new initiatives or new income support measures that will help move families out of poverty."
Last year, as the recession claimed more and more jobs in Canada's most populous province, Ontario's Liberal government increased welfare rates by two per cent.
Welfare rolls in the province increased steadily since the October 2008 stock market plunge that sent many workers into unemployment.
While the marketplace has begun to turn around, that development has yet to be reflected in social assistance numbers.
Ontario's welfare caseload continued to climb in December, the last figures available, despite signs of a tentative economic recovery in the province.
More than 440,700 Ontario residents depended on social assistance -- an increase of 1.6 per cent, or almost 7,000 recipients from November 2009.
More than 370,000 people collect disability payments in the province.
The government says it has increased what it spends on social assistance by more than $2 billion, or almost 50 per cent, since the Liberals were elected in 2003.
Others who will benefit from the increase announced in Thursday's budget include families receiving temporary care assistance, those with children with severe disabilities and people in long-term care homes who get a comfort allowance.
Municipalities will be asked to kick in for the increase starting next January, although the province announced no new money for municipalities in the budget.
Because benefit programs are delivered by a combination of ministries, other levels of government and third-party agents such as non-governmental organizations, the system can be complex to navigate, the government said in the budget.
As a result, it plans to streamline how people access the programs by creating a new web portal to centralize information and establish put an automated income verification process for programs where income is considered.
A program that helps people pay for extra food costs related to medical conditions is being cancelled, after the auditor general warned many of the applications were questionable.
The special diet allowance will be replaced in the coming months with another medically based nutritional supplement program to help people with severe medical needs on social assistance.
Nancy Vanderplaats, with the Ontario Disability Support Action Coalition, said people who receive the allowance are worried the program that replaces it will not provide them with enough to buy the foods they need.
The overall message of the budget for low-income people is: "You don't count. You don't matter. We have other priorities."
The government will also spend $6 million over two years to help reduce a backlog of employment standards claims, improve protection of Ontario employees and modernize employment standards.