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Ontario gave parents more than $1B in cash over 2 years. Here's where the money went

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During the pandemic, the Ontario government started to hand out cash to parents to help offset the cost of at-home learning while schools were shuttered.

Premier Doug Ford would later offer multiple versions of this program over the years, offering parents hundreds of dollars for tutoring in an effort to help kids “catch up” with their education.

But since 2020, hundreds of parents have complained they were unable to access those funds.

More than three million applications were received during the first three iterations of the program, resulting in over $1.1 billion in payments.

Data obtained by a Freedom of Information request shows where the money from those first three programs went.

The premier announced the first program–Support for Families–in 2020, offering to directly deposit $200 per child 12 years of age and under, or $250 for dependents with special needs under the age of 21.

Just over 2,600 parents applied for this program, totalling about $548,300 in payments.

The area with the largest number of applicants was Sault Ste. Marie, with about $14,600 in cash paid out to parents.

Areas in Brampton, Toronto and Milton were among the five regions to get the most payouts. This could be impacted by density and the number of children in each region.

The second round of payments–under the Support for Learners program–encompassed applications between November 2020 and February 2021.

This time, more than 1.1 million parents applied, costing the government more than $228 million.

Parents in Milton got the most cash, with over $2.6 million paid out. This was followed by parents in Brampton and Mississauga.

By the time the third iteration of parent payments was offered, parents knew how to get their money’s worth. More than 2.1 million parents applied for the payments, costing the government more than $8.8 million.

The Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit offered parents a little more money as well–about $400 per child and up to $500 per child with special needs.

The areas that had the most applications and therefore received the most cash were again Milton, Brampton, Mississauga and Barrie.

Government officials say that the fourth round of payments, which ran between Oct. 2022 and March 2023, brought the total number of applications to 5.9 million. About $1.6 billion in cash was sent to parents between all four programs.

Postal codes not used as identifying factor in payments

It’s important to note that the data provided to CTV News Toronto is incomplete. There were 468 entries that included postal codes that did not exist in Ontario.

These entries represent over $3 million over the first three programs.

Government officials said that postal codes were not used as identifying factors in the application, and were only checked if a parent requested payment by mail rather than a direct deposit.

Instead, they cross-referenced the child’s education number with school boards.

“The ministry used reliable data sources, including the Ontario Education Number and the birth registry, to assist in validating applications and mitigating the risk of potential fraudulent or duplicate submissions,” a spokesperson for the ministry of education said.

“The accuracy of a postal code was verified for applicants that chose to receive their payments through regular mail.”

Ontario’s Ombudsman is currently investigating the premier’s decision to give parents money directly, saying it received about 200 complaints from parents who were denied payments because “someone else had claimed the money first.”

According to the ombudsman, some parents learned that a relative who was not caring for a child had claimed the money, and there was no recourse to get it back.

“We heard disturbing accounts from parents who were not only denied funding for the children in their care – they were not told who received the payments,” Ombudsman Paul Dube said in a statement. “People have complained to us about this issue through successive iterations of these programs, and the latest version is likely not the last.”

The ministry of education said that the discrepancy with postal codes would have no impact on these complaints, as it wasn’t used to determine who got the payments.

The online application asks the parents to provide the name of a child’s school, their date of birth, and their preferred payment method.

On the government’s website it specifies that only one parent or guardian may apply per student.

“It is up to the child’s parents or guardians to determine who will apply,” the website said. “We are not involved in these decisions and will not accept duplicate applications.”

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