Daily Bread joins the call for a National Portable Housing Benefit program in the National Housing Strategy
Daily Bread has joined the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH), United Way Centraide Canada, Raising the Roof , Campaign 2000 and other leading Canadian anti-poverty organizations to call on the federal government to include a National Portable Housing Benefit in the upcoming National Housing Strategy.
In a letter sent to the Hon. Jean Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the group called on the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to launch a national portable housing benefit that starts by assisting those with greatest need, particularly households currently spending more than 50% of on housing and Canadians experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Rent is the single biggest expense for those accessing food banks in Toronto: food bank clients spend, on average, 71% of their income on rent. Direct assistance for renters would help households most in need, complement social housing, and provide a flexible benefit that renters can use regardless of where they live — all without adding pressure to the already-heated rental market that exists in cities like Toronto. Rental assistance is also an essential element to any effort to prevent and end homelessness.
What could a National Portable Housing Benefit look like?
Daily Bread has been working closely with a number of national partner organizations in the National Housing Collaborative on a proposal to the federal government of what a National Portable Housing Benefit could encompass. In a detailed proposal recently submitted to the federal government, the NHC proposed a single, harmonized and co-funded federal-provincial-territorial program that provides rent assistance directly to tenants in need.
It’s important to note that our housing benefit proposal is designed to be complementary to, not a replacement for, affordable and social housing investment. Canada has a severe affordable housing crisis which requires both construction of new housing and a means to immediately address the urgent housing affordability needs of Canadians.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Daily 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.
Today, the Executive Committee at City Council will meet to discuss the Budget Committee’s recommendation that a 2.6 per cent cut to all budgets be implemented for this year’s budget, in order to balance it. In response, Daily Bread Food Bank sent the following letter to Mayor Tory and the Executive Committee expressing our concerns about a blanket cut to services.
Monday, June 27, 2016
Dear Mayor Tory and Executive Committee:
Tomorrow, you will have the opportunity to discuss how to make ends meet based on the budget committee’s call for a 2.6 per cent spending cut. This is the sixth consecutive year in which there will be budget reductions in a city which has unacceptable levels of poverty and hunger. Instead of making cuts that will negatively affect Toronto’s most vulnerable, we ask that you protect residents from further cuts to city services and infrastructure.
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. We ensure that those on low incomes who are struggling with hunger have access to nutritious food through food banks, homeless shelters, community food centres as well as meal programs. We also recognize that hunger is a symptom of poverty and to have any impact on reducing hunger, first we need to reduce poverty.
There is a widening gap between the have and have nots in this City. While Toronto has a red hot real estate market and a very competitive business environment, Toronto also has the highest levels of working poor and child poverty in Canada. And hunger is on the rise. Daily Bread’s latest Who’s Hungry report shows that there were nearly 900,000 visits to Toronto food banks last year, with a 45 per cent increase in visits to food banks in the inner suburbs since 2008. People are stretched to their limits due to high rental costs, and are skipping meals to afford TIC fare in order to get to jobs or doctors’ appointments. Member agencies are bursting at the seams in the former inner suburbs (e.g. Etobicoke and Scarborough), while food programs in the city core have disappeared or are at risk of disappearing due to gentrification, redevelopment and the accompanying increases in rent.
City budgets that see increases to 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.
We ask that you do not balance a budget on the backs of the most vulnerable in Toronto.
Senior Manager, Research
Daily Bread Food Bank
T: 416-203-0050 ext. 288
The 2016 Federal Budget brought the federal government back to the table when it comes to fighting poverty across the country. From the creation of a new federal child benefit to coordinating a national housing strategy, there is potential that these investments can make a substantial impact in poverty reduction when combined with provincial and local initiatives.
Creation of the Canada Child Benefit
The new Canada Child Benefit announced in the federal budget is one of the biggest developments in social policy at the federal level in many years. This new progressive, non-taxable benefit has real potential to lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty. However the devil will be in the details when it comes to families receiving social assistance, who would be among the poorest families needing the maximum amount of the benefit the most.
The 2016 federal budget created the new Canada Child Benefit by consolidated the existing patchwork of federal child benefits, and targeting it so it could better benefit low income families. The Canada Child Benefit will provide a maximum annual benefit of up to$6,400 per child under the age of six, and up to $5,400 per child for those aged six through 17. According to the federal budget document, for families receiving less than $30,000 a year, this could mean a maximum increase of $1,548 per child under six, and a $1,484 increase for per child six and over.
In Toronto, 35 per cent of households accessing food banks are families with children. This extra income could make a big impact in reducing the need for food banks for these families. However, in order to ensure the families who need the support the most will benefit from the new Canada Child Benefit, it is important that the provinces and territories do not claw back that income from families receiving social assistance.
This is a particularly important consideration for those accessing food banks in Toronto, as nearly 60 per cent of families with children accessing food banks receive social assistance as their main form of income. While the previously implemented National Child Benefit Supplement allowed provinces and territories to claw back this income from families on social assistance, the federal government can take a strong lead in setting a standard of not allowing this income to be clawed back.
Creation of a National Early Learning and Child Care Framework
Lack of affordable childcare is a significant financial barrier for many families. Past Who’s Hungry surveys found that almost a quarter of parents said that they could not enter the workforce because of both cost and access to daycare.
The federal budget proposed to invest $500 million in 2017–18 to support the establishment of a National Framework on Early Learning and Child Care, to be developed in consultation with the provinces, territories and indigenous communities beginning this year.
Increased access to Employment Insurance
The most common reason people need a food bank for the first time is because they have lost their job.
Many cannot access E.I. because they do not have enough hours and have to apply directly to social assistance as a last resort. Increasing part time, contract and seasonal arrangements make acquiring enough hours to qualify more difficult.
The federal budget expands E.I. coverage to those that are new to or re-entering the labour force, by reducing the number of hours required for them have worked in order to be eligible for the program. This will expand access to the program for an estimated 50,000 additional claimants.
The budget also commits to reducing the waiting period to access E.I. from two weeks to one week. This will give people who have lost their jobs quicker access to a source of income.
Topping up the Guaranteed Income Supplement for Seniors
Food insecurity among seniors has been increasing. The Canadian Community Health Survey reported a 24 per cent increase in the number of severely food insecure seniors from 2007 to 2012. For many seniors on low income, their pensions have not been able to keep up with rapidly rising food and housing costs.
The federal budget has committed to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement for single seniors with the lowest levels of income, increasing their payments by $947, as well as adjusting benefits on a quarterly basis to match increases in the cost of living.
The federal budget also commits to restoring the eligibility for Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement to age 65 from age 67. This is especially important for those living in poverty who will be able to receive this essential form of income when they turn 65.
Increasing affordable housing and leading a National Housing Strategy
One of the most common barriers food bank clients face is the high cost of housing. Clients spend 71 per cent of their income on rent and utilities, and one-third skip meals in order to be able to keep a roof over their heads. Toronto is becoming increasingly unaffordable for too many families, and the supply of subsidized housing units is way too small to be able to keep up with the demand.
The new federal budget makes a $2.3 billion commitment over two years to repair and retrofit existing subsidized housing units as well as creating new affordable housing. The budget also commits the federal government to leading the coordination of provinces, territories, and other groups to develop a National Housing Strategy. With the City of Toronto, the Province and Federal government now aligned in seeking to address the need of affordable housing, there is new opportunity to create long term, transformational change in this area.
In our 2016 pre-budget consultation, we asked for changes that would help more low income Ontarians live in good health and dignity, as well as move toward a modern income security system that supports people’s transitions to employment and improve their income security. These were recommendations that were reiterated from our 2015 submission, where we outlined 5 key ideas from the final report of the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, Brighter Prospects, which we wanted to see implemented.
In their latest budget, the province has set out commitments to address three of those ideas. They include the $100 total increase to Ontario Works rates for single adults without children; a commitment to reduce (to 100 per cent) the claw back rate on child support payments for households receiving social assistance; and laying the groundwork for the introduction of housing benefit for low income people to better afford their housing.
Daily Bread Recommendation
2016 Ontario Budget
• Increasing the social assistance rates, in particular bringing the Ontario Works rate for single person households to the full $100 increase recommended by the commission.
• Provided a further top-up to singles without children receiving Ontario Works — bringing their total increase to $25 per month more than last year, and $100 more per month than they received in 2012.
• Setting a withdrawal rate for child support payments based on a rationale and empirical evidence, and less than the dollar for dollar clawback that exists currently.
• A commitment to introduce changes to social assistance rules so that families receiving social assistance who receive child support payments can benefit from more of this income.
• A commitment to examine and design a Housing Benefit to help all low income tenants in Ontario better afford their housing.
• A commitment to the development of a framework for a portable housing benefit, and transformation of social and supportive housing programs.
• $2.4 million in 2016–17 to pilot a new portable housing benefit that would offer more options for those fleeing domestic violence, benefiting approximately 500 households.
In addition to these commitments, the province has also committed to Basic Income pilot project.
A “Basic Income” is an income which would provide households with enough money that they wouldn’t have to live in poverty. The amount of income a household receives would either replace or complement other forms of income they might be receiving, such as child tax benefits or social assistance, in order to bring them above a pre-determined “poverty line”.
Many see the idea of a basic income as one that replaces the outdated form of provincial social assistance which provides only very low levels of income, as well as has restrictive rules which create barriers to escaping poverty. In the 2016 budget, the province seeks to pilot a project which would address these issues, including providing improved and more seamless financial support for those making the transition from welfare to work.
We’re hopeful that the results of this pilot project will provide the evidence needed to create further, large scale changes to the income security support system in Ontario.
Other important steps that still need to be taken
In the meantime, the Province should continue to increase the liquid assets allowable for those on social assistance. Low asset limits can undermine financial resiliency and jeopardizes retirement savings, which makes it more difficult to escape poverty and may cost the government more in the long term. Currently, the allowable level of liquid assets is $2,500 for single people receiving Ontario Works and $5,000 for those on the Ontario Disability Support Program. While the allowable assets for those receiving Ontario Works have increased significantly in the last few years, Ontario should continue to increase asset levels for both programs in the near future.
Additionally, there needs to be work to replace rent scales in Rent Geared to Income (RGI) housing with the 30 per cent of income RGI calculation outlined in the Brighter Prospects report, which will help prevent the sudden spike in rent for tenants receiving social assistance who are able to earn added income from employment.
From an article in today’s Toronto Star about hunger and how it is affecting people in Toronto. Watch the video to hear Daily Bread’s executive director, Gail Nyberg, talk about hunger.
“While the number of annual visits to the agency fell, use of food banks across the country is rising, particularly among singles. It remains stubbornly high for families with children.
Some economists say food bank use is also surprisingly high among people who earn minimum wage, or receive provincial social assistance and Employment Insurance — a sign that government policies on wages, financial support and housing need to be re-examined.”