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Hopeful news: the 2017 Ontario Budget allows people on assistance to keep a financial cushion

As the labour market becomes more precarious and with fewer employment-triggered disability benefits available, more people in Ontario need to access provincial social assistance. By increasing asset limits to social assistance, the 2017 Ontario Budget has made an essential step in reforming the system by significantly reducing restrictions to access the program.

Some background to this change: the allowable asset levels in Ontario’s two social assistance programs – Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) – have been very low since their implantation in the 1990’s. For instance, until last year a single person receiving OW could only have the equivalent to one months’ social assistance payment in assets. Why is restricting the amount of assets a bad idea? It has been argued that low asset levels undermine financial resiliency, work against the goal of returning a recipient to the workforce quickly, and jeopardize savings for retirement – all of which may cost governments more in the long term.

With this budget the provincial budget took a large step: liquid asset limits for single people receiving Ontario Works was increased to $10,000 from $2,500, and to $15,000 for couples from $5,000.

For those receiving ODSP, asset limits are being increased to $40,000 from $5,000 for single individuals, and to $50,000 for couples from $7,500.

Other commitments made in the provincial budget include:

  • Increasing the income exemption for cash gifts for those receiving social assistance from $6,000 to $10,000;
  • Increasing social assistance payments across the board by 2 per cent;
  • Investing $30 million over the next three years in the Survivors of Domestic Violence Portable Housing Benefit Pilot, which will eventually support 3,000 people;
  • $90 million to the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiatives;
  • The addition of 24,000 licenced child care spaces, including 16,000 that will be subsidized;
  • Universal prescription drug coverage to all children and youth 24 and under.

The province has also committed to a Supermarket Recovery Pilot Program, which will provide a one-time investment of $600,000 to make grants available to food banks and food rescue organizations to expand their capacity to transport and store surplus fresh and perishable food. This pilot was one of the top three ideas selected by the public for funding though the Budget Talks platform.

At Daily Bread, we are particularly pleased to see that many of our key recommendations to the province last year are moving forward in the 2017 budget.

These initiatives, along with the previously announced Basic Income Pilot that will begin in the summer in Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay, will continue the momentum to enable the further, large scale changes to the income security system in Ontario that can help reduce poverty and hunger in our communities.


Date Added: April 28, 2017 | Filed under: Blog, Government, In the News, News, Policy, Research — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 3:32 pm



It’s tax time: are people on low incomes getting all the benefits they’re entitled to?

For thousands accessing food banks across Toronto, lack of income is the key driver of hunger. Clients on average spend 71 per cent of their income on rent, which leaves little for food and other necessities. For many, an extra hundred dollars or more a month could mean the difference between being able to afford groceries or having to access a food bank, being able to pay rent without skipping meals, or not needing to access a food bank as frequently.

While much needs to be done to improve and strengthen our social safety net and income security system, there is extra income that is already available through our tax system, but receiving these benefits is dependent on people filing their taxes.

Food banks can help remove barriers to accessing extra income

Sometimes people don’t file their taxes because they are not aware of the benefits to them, or may encounter other barriers due to the complexity and administrative requirements involved. Unfortunately, people on low incomes are losing out on potentially thousands of dollars of additional income because of these barriers.

Recognizing the barriers many low income people face in getting the benefits from tax filing, some food banks and other member agencies of Daily Bread Food Bank provide tax clinics and other tax filing assistance for their clients. With targeted outreach and administrative and technological support, many more low income people could be receiving all the benefits they’re entitled to receive.

Daily Bread Food Bank member agencies such as The Bluffs, New Toronto Street Food Bank, St. James Food Basket, Toronto West SDA, and Native Canadian Centre among many others offer tax filing assistance. These member agencies are similar to many other community tax clinics that provide trained volunteers, many through the Canada Revenue Agency’s Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP), which help people file their taxes through one on one support. Through continued outreach such as this, hopefully more people who are less likely to file taxes will be able to do so, and be informed of all the benefits to which they’re entitled.

Who’s filing – and who’s not filing – by the numbers

In 2013 Daily Bread’s Who’s Hungry survey found that 72 per cent of respondents accessing food banks across the GTA had filed their income taxes that year.1 While it is good news that nearly three quarters of respondents filed their taxes and are getting the benefits they are entitled to, there are more than 25 per cent of clients who are potentially missing out. And despite outreach efforts to inform people of these benefits, newer strategies may be needed to reach those who are less likely to file.

The Maytree Foundation recently published a piece entitled “Filing taxes brings major benefits to people on low incomes”. The article, which will be referenced throughout this report, noted that while provincial and federal tax benefits such as the Canada Child Benefit, Old Age Security, and GST/HST credits can cumulatively add up to thousands of dollars of additional income for low income households, many miss out because they either don’t file or are not aware of what they’re eligible to apply for or even how to apply.

Of those who do not file, the Who’s Hungry survey found that certain demographic groups accessing food banks were less likely to file than others.2 They include single people, households receiving social assistance as a main form of income, and recent newcomers who have been in Canada for more than a year but less than four years. These groups are not mutually exclusive, and many issues they face overlap. Highlighting those groups who are less likely to file may help to provide some insight as to what some potential barriers to filing might be and where more outreach may be needed.

Single person households

Single Person Household Bar Chart

Single person households are significantly less likely to have filed their taxes, with 69 per cent filing a tax return the previous year compared to 75 per cent for other household types.

Of all household types, working age single person households without children have the least amount of pre-retirement tax credits available to them, unlike households with children who can access various child tax benefits, including the Ontario Child Benefit and the Canada Child Tax Benefit. For single people living on low income, there may be less incentive to file taxes due to lack of awareness of the benefits that are available to them even if they had no employment income the previous year.

Social assistance as a main source of income

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People receiving social assistance as their main form of income are also significantly less likely to have filed their taxes the previous year, with 70 per cent reporting that they filed compared with 78 per cent not receiving social assistance as their main form of income. Respondents who were not receiving social assistance as their main form of income were receiving other sources such as employment, pensions, or child tax benefits.

In addition to the misperception that if they don’t owe income tax there is little reason to file, people receiving social assistance may face other barriers. In Maytree’s article, it was noted that since the CRA is promoting electronic filing the lack of accessibility for people with disabilities or those who don’t have high-speed internet or a computer, may pose barriers. Clients living on social assistance spend the vast majority of their income on rent and utilities, and some may not be able to afford to have high speed internet at home.

The article also noted that “people with low incomes experiencing challenges or who have complex tax situations may need hands-on help to tax file, but can’t afford paid tax advisors and may not know where to turn for free help it it’s available in their community.”

Recent newcomers

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Recent newcomers, for the purposes of this analysis defined as being in Canada for four years or less (but here for more than one year), are less likely to have filed their taxes. Fifty-seven per cent of recent newcomers filed their taxes the previous year, versus 76 per cent of those who are not recent newcomers.

The barriers faced by recent newcomers are similar to those faced by others, including lack of awareness of available benefits, cost, and lack of knowledge of the system that affect their ability to access a range of services beyond just financial ones. Limited knowledge of English could be another reason, with a previous study by Daily Bread noting that those who did not have a good command of the language were less likely to file.

Despite being more likely to file their taxes, low income seniors are still not receiving all the benefits they’re entitled to

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According to the 2013 Who’s Hungry survey, respondents who were seniors 65 or older were significantly more likely to have filed their taxes: 85 per cent filed the previous year compared to 71 per cent who were not seniors. However, only 11 per cent were receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, even though many more were likely eligible. The most recent Who’s Hungry survey for 2016 did not ask a question about tax filing, but the number of seniors accessing the GIS had not significantly changed.

The Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) is part of a basic income-type program that exists for seniors in Canada. Low income seniors qualify for the GIS if they are receiving the Old Age Security pension (OAS), and have an annual income lower than a set threshold ($17,544 annually for a single person household, or approximately $1,500 per month). They also need to have resided in Canada for at least 10 years in order to receive it.

The Maytree report referenced an evaluation by Human Resources and Development Canada, which estimated that while 87 per cent of eligible seniors are accessing the GIS, there are potentially 200,000 more who may be missing out.

Food bank clients who are seniors provide some insight as to the circumstances of those who are not receiving the benefit.

Chart

The median monthly income reported by Who’s Hungry survey respondents 65 and over is $1,200 per month, which from a financial standpoint make them eligible for the GIS. While three quarters of survey respondents were not born in Canada, the vast majority – 74 per cent – have lived here at least 10 years or more which would make also them eligible due to their length of residence in Canada.

In order to receive the GIS, a senior must specifically request it when applying for OAS. While a much higher percentage of senior respondents (50%) reported that they were receiving OAS, it’s still possible that some are not applying for that source of income as well even though they’re entitled to it.

Because the application process for both OAS and GIS can be administratively complex without some assistance, language barriers may be a factor for some seniors in Toronto not accessing it. Fifty-one per cent of seniors reported not speaking English as their main language at home. Other seniors who have just turned 65 may not have applied in time, and are still receiving social assistance (either Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program) despite being qualified to receive seniors’ benefits that could increase their income by hundreds of dollars a month.

“Tax-filing is a proven way to improve the financial situation of Canadians with low incomes, but has yet to be fully exploited as a means to reduce poverty in Canada.”

– U. Bajwa


Further reading

Accessing Income-Boosting Benefits Through Tax Filing – U. Bajwa for Prosper Canada

Filing Your First Tax Return in Canada: Free Resources For Newcomers – Toronto Public Library

As a doctor, here’s why I’m prescribing tax returns. Seriously. – Gary Bloch, Globe and Mail


1 The results from the 2013 Who’s Hungry survey are based on 1680 interviews conducted with people accessing food banks across the GTA.

2 Chi square analyses were conducted for the results in this report, with significance at the .05 level.


Date Added: March 31, 2017 | Filed under: Blog, Information, News, Research — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 2:07 pm



Re-thinking CSR: should you match your employees’ generosity?

ciscoIs your company thinking of stepping up its charitable involvement? It might be time to think beyond the “one company-one charity” model and explore a matching gifts program.

In its broadest terms, a matching gifts program does what it says on the tin: the company matches the charitable donations – of money, time or both – that are made by its employees.

Cisco Canada has been offering a matching gift program to its employees since 1996, and has recently launched its Time2Give and Be The Bridge programs.

Willa Black is Cisco Canada’s Vice President, Corporate Affairs, and she believes that Cisco’s matching programs have thrived because they empower employees with choice, and equally important, they are aligned with Cisco’s core competence.

“Cisco is a very “Get to it” culture, and collaboration and teamwork are a very natural fit for us,” she says. “We’re reinforcing the message that the tools we have at our disposal are being used to make positive impact in communities: like bringing classroom experiences to Indigenous communities in our Connected North program, for example, or donating the technology that we used to run the Pan Am games to nonprofits.”

She spoke to us recently about Cisco Canada’s matching gift programs.

Willa Black: When I think about the power of our matching program what stands out is that we know we have great employees and we want to amplify their impact. The first way we do that is by giving them the freedom to spend time investing in their own communities.

In our Time2Give program full-time employees can take up to five days off work, fully paid, to volunteer in the activity of their choice. For every hour that an employee commits, we donate $10, up to $1,000.
(Note: all dollar amounts are USD.)

We have 1,700 employees in Canada, and in 2016, they gave 3,602 volunteer hours – we think that’s an excellent result.

Then there’s Cisco’s Be the Bridge program which matches cash donations up to $10,000 during the holiday season. In 2016, we matched $111,000 in donations.

How do you decide which charities to include in the matching program?
Individual employees nominate a charity or non-profit in the Cisco matching system. Then the charity gets vetted, and if they meet our requirements they are processed in the system and employees’ donations are eligible for matching. We have a civic council that determines the employee engagement activities we do. We get on a call once a month; we talk to charities in person; and we’re constantly keeping our fingers on the pulse of what employees think is meaningful. This culture of giving back is woven into our strategic plan: we have a seat at the table with the strategic team. It makes employees feel really proud about what they do and where they work.

What would you suggest to companies that are considering starting their own matching program?
You have to be creative about the different ways you can support employees: maybe you can give them a paid day off or sponsor a community event. Organizations have to focus on their core competence and do what works for their culture.

What have the benefits been to your company overall?
We were ranked by Aon Hewitt as the Number 1 best employer in Canada for several years, and giving back and volunteerism are key to this, because it engages employees and gives them a sense of pride. It’s important for people to know it’s more than dollars and cents.

Cisco Canada has supported Daily Bread Food Bank since 2000 – including organizing in-office food and fund drives to gathering hundreds of volunteers to assemble Toronto Star Santa Hampers each holiday season. Cisco’s matching program has granted Daily Bread over $35,000 to match the volunteer efforts of hundreds of Cisco employees.

Further reading:

4 reasons why your company needs a matching gift program
http://www.frontstream.com/4-reasons-company-needs-matching-gifts-program

How to start an employee donation matching program
http://www.wikihow.com/Start-an-Employee-Donation-Matching-Program


Date Added: March 6, 2017 | Filed under: Blog, Information, News — Tags: , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 3:17 pm



A federal housing benefit would help in reducing need for food banks

The National Housing Collaborative is recommending a housing benefit for renters in the 2017 federal budget. A housing benefit, given directly to a tenant, would help to address the lack of income which drives the need to get emergency food relief from a food bank.

The financial pressure of housing costs is the key reason for the high demand on Toronto food banks, which saw over 900,000 visits in 2016. Daily Bread’s 2016 Who’s Hungry report showed that, on average, food bank clients spend 71 per cent of their income on rent and utilities; of those who reported skipping meals to pay for something else, the most commonly cited expense was rent.

“A portable housing benefit helps to address the demand side of affordable housing by increasing tenant incomes,” said Richard Matern, Director of Research and Communications at Daily Bread Food Bank. “To maximize its effectiveness in reducing poverty, a federal housing benefit should be one piece of the affordable housing response, in addition to increasing the supply of affordable housing.”

Working on the frontlines at Daily Bread and our 130 member agencies, we see far too often how people are forced to choose between buying food or paying rent. A housing benefit would go a long way toward helping to make sure that people don’t have to make those painful choices.

Read the Daily Bread press release about the federal housing benefit.


Date Added: January 24, 2017 | Filed under: Blog, Government, In the News, Information, News, Policy, Research — Tags: , , , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 7:26 pm



Toronto City Budget 2017

In order to balance the upcoming city budget, city departments have been instructed to cut their budgets by 2.6 per cent. This amounts to nearly $77 million in cuts, with the possibility of cuts to programs and services that help the most vulnerable in our city.

The city is looking into cutting homeless prevention services, dental programs, and rent subsidies for day care programs, in addition to stopping expansion of student nutrition programs.

The widening gap

While Toronto has a red-hot real estate market and a very competitive business environment, it also has the highest levels of working poor and child poverty in Canada.

City budgets that cut services to the most vulnerable, and increase user fees and transit costs well above the rate of inflation, while keeping property taxes below the rate of inflation, only reinforce this widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Budget cuts to the most vulnerable don’t save money – they just transfer the cost

Cutting or limiting the expansion of programs might balance a budget in the short term, but that does not eliminate their true cost – that cost is simply transferred to individuals.

Without student nutrition programs, many parents have to make choices about giving up food so their child can have breakfast, and many children may simply go to school hungry. Without daycare subsidies, parents may have to decide that taking that job may not be worth the cost of daycare. Without dental programs, people may have to sacrifice food money in order to fix that broken tooth.

Food banks across Toronto have been seeing a strong increase in demand in the past year, particularly in the former inner suburbs where the lower income population is more likely to live. Lack of affordable housing, combined with the recent rise in food prices, have led many to come to a food bank for the first time.

Food banks feed hungry Torontonians but are being stretched to their limits

Daily Bread Food Bank is a non-profit organization that provides food and support to almost 200 food programs and 136 member agencies across Toronto. Last year alone there were over 900,000 visits to these agencies and to North York Harvest food banks.

There are many Daily Bread Food Bank member agencies operating in almost every ward throughout the city. The majority of member agencies run their food programs in local churches and community centres. Dedicated staff and volunteers in these agencies pick up, stock, and distribute food to people in their community in addition to providing other services to support people on low incomes.

Food banks in the former inner suburbs are bursting at the seams, seeing a nearly 50 per cent increase in client demand since 2008. Food programs in the city core have disappeared or are at risk of disappearing due to gentrification, redevelopment and the accompanying increases in rent.

Despite being an essential source of food for tens of thousands of Torontonians, Daily Bread and food programs operate largely outside of government and do not receive government funding. On its own, Daily Bread moves about $22 million worth of food on a budget of about $8 million, relying primarily on private donations from individuals and corporations.

It is our hope that city council considers that cost savings in the short term need to be balanced against the financial and social impact on individuals living with low income, and on the non-profits that already struggle to serve them.

Find out more about the need for food banks in Toronto. Our most recent Who’s Hungry report is here: http://www.dailybread.ca/learning-centre/whos-hungry/

Daily Bread member agencies operate in almost every ward throughout the city. Find out more about food programs in your ward here: http://www.dailybread.ca/whoshungry/ward-map.html


Date Added: January 11, 2017 | Filed under: Blog, Government, In the News, Member Agencies, News, Policy, Research — Tags: , , , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 1:47 pm



Keeping our trucks rolling!

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Helping to keep us moving, Barrick Gold Corporation announced a three-year, $100,000 “Heart of Gold” sponsorship of Daily Bread Food Bank’s fleet of five food delivery trucks today. Peter Sinclair, Chief Sustainability Officer, and Heart of Gold Fund committee members braved the cold to check out the trucks, then stayed to help sort food for Daily Bread’s holiday drive.

Getting truck sponsorship is crucial: Daily Bread has five trucks that deliver and pick up donated food throughout Toronto five days a week. The trucks load up with food every morning between 7:30 am and 8:30 am, leave the warehouse to deliver food to agencies, then pick up food donations, and return by 4:30 pm. Daily Bread’s trucks travel an average of 25,000 km per year, and are key to providing groceries and meals for 110,000 client visits at almost 200 food bank and meal programs across the city.

Big festive thanks to Barrick for their support!


Date Added: December 21, 2016 | Filed under: Blog, In the News, Information, News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 11:59 am



Winter Holiday Meal Programs & Drop-In Hours

Click here to find out more information on meal programs and drop-in hours this winter holiday around Toronto. Special holiday meals provided by drop-ins are noted. The information on this list has been created by the Toronto Drop-In Network (TDIN) from information provided by TDIN members and community agenices.

The information is accurate as of December 20, 2016 but is subject to change. Please call ahead to confirm services, meals and hours!


Date Added: December 20, 2016 | Filed under: Blog, Holiday Drive, Information, Meal Programs, News — Tags: , , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 9:43 am



Daily Bread’s Holiday Drive has begun!

hpbanner-2016-holidaydriveDaily Bread’s Holiday Drive is on now and ends December 31. The money and food raised during the Holiday Drive helps Daily Bread provide food for almost 200 food programs across Toronto throughout the winter months.

Most people coming to a food bank are spending over 70 per cent of their income on housing costs, with less than $7 a day left over for everything else: warm clothing, transportation, medicine and food. Often, that’s not enough and hard choices have to be made – food on the table – or warm winter boots for your child? Over half of adults have skipped a meal in order to pay for something else, most often rent. Nutritious food becomes a luxury some people just can’t afford.

That’s where Daily Bread steps in to help. Daily Bread collects, purchases and distributes nutritious food out through a network of member agencies to those who need it most. From food banks to women’s shelters, drop-in programs or hostels for the homeless, Daily Bread helps to provide a basic necessity that 90,000 people across Toronto can’t afford. For every dollar donated to Daily Bread, Daily Bread can provide a meal to someone struggling with hunger.

Most needed food items include: dried/canned beans or lentils, rice, canned fruits and vegetables, pasta and tomato pasta sauce, peanut butter, canned fish/meat, oatmeal, baby formula/cereal and food. Food donations can be dropped off at any local fire hall.

Financial donations can be made easily and securely online by clicking the ‘Donate’ button at the top of this page.


Date Added: December 1, 2016 | Filed under: Blog, Holiday Drive, In the News, Information, News — Tags: , , — Adam Paralovos @ 12:11 pm



You can donate on the TTC

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TTC riders: during your morning commute on Monday, December 12 and Tuesday, December 13 you can donate to Daily Bread Food Bank!

The holiday season can be overwhelming for your neighbours who are struggling to provide food for their families. Your donations will enable Daily Bread to purchase fresh food like fruit, vegetables, eggs, and meat to distribute to over 129 member agencies and over 200 meal programs, as well as keep our delivery trucks on the road.

On Monday, December 12 & Tuesday, December 13, look for Daily Bread’s donation volunteers at these subway stations:
Bloor/Yonge, Bay, College, Dundas and King

We will be accepting your donations from 7:30am to 9:30am on both days.

Not a subway rider but still want to donate?
Click on the yellow “Donate Now” button above or click here.

Thank you – and happy holidays!


Date Added: November 30, 2016 | Filed under: Blog, Holiday Drive, News — Tags: , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 8:16 am



West Toronto Diabetes Education Program

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Peer Outreach Leaders, Alethia Barrett and Lin Lin Chou, bring diabetes awareness to Daily Bread

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. In recognition of this, the West Toronto Diabetes Education Program (WTDEP) visited Daily Bread to shed some light on the effects of diabetes, as well as, where people can go for information and support. The WTDEP is funded by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. They provide many services to the public for free of charge to help individuals understand diabetes with support, practical tools and guidance.

These services include:

•  Group education sessions

•  One-on-one consultations

•  Cooking demonstrations

•  Exercise classes

•  Doctor or self-referral

•  Other events (inquire within)

It is important that we not only recognize diabetes in the month of November, but all year round. Please spread the word and help raise awareness!

The West Toronto Diabetes Education Program is a program of LAMP Community Health Centre. For more information please click here: www.lampchc.org/diabetes


Date Added: November 27, 2016 | Filed under: Blog, Information, News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 9:13 am



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