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Ontario Budget 2018: An opportunity to set “The Roadmap for Change” off to a strong start

In November 2017, the provincial government released “Income Security: A Roadmap for Change”, written by three groups that were appointed by the Minister of Community and Social Services (MCSS) in 2016 to give advice on how to reform Ontario’s income security system.

The Roadmap made some important recommendations, including significantly increasing social assistance rates, making the system less punitive, and implementing an Ontario Housing Benefit.

The 2018 Ontario Budget provides an opportunity to immediately invest in two recommendations proposed by the Roadmap:

  1. Implement a Standard Flat Rate, collapsing the Basic Needs Allowance and Shelter Allowance portions of social assistance into one amount;
  2. Setting this Standard Flat Rate to $794 per month for Ontario Works and $1,209 for Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

While greater investments will still need to be made to bring people out of poverty, these will be crucial steps that have the power to transform the system and can have an impact on people struggling with hunger in Toronto.

The Standard Flat Rate

In Daily Bread’s 2016 Who’s Hungry report we profiled Tim, a food bank client and volunteer who had lost his job after 30 years and was homeless. Tim’s health was deteriorating, and his condition was exacerbated from having to sleep outdoors. Because he couldn’t work and had no other income options he was able to access Ontario Works but was in a catch-22: because he was homeless, he was not entitled to receive the Shelter Allowance, only the Basic Needs Allowance – a little over $300 a month. Because of this bureaucratic separation between the Basic Needs and Shelter portions of Ontario Works, Tim was receiving only half of an already low level of income support, creating another barrier to his escaping homelessness.

Tim’s situation reveals one of many structural flaws of the present social assistance system, but the 2018 Ontario Budget presents an opportunity to correct this flaw: implementing a Standard Flat Rate, which would collapse the Basic Needs and Shelter allowances into one amount. This change would ensure that everyone receiving social assistance would have the same level of support, regardless of whether they are homeless, renting or owning, or live in rent-geared-to-income housing.

This change would also help accommodate various living arrangements people have to make in today’s challenging rental market in order to maintain housing, such as sharing accommodation with others. The present system is designed to monitor and regulate people’s living situation by basing rates on shelter costs, and where and with whom you live. This creates further hardship and barriers to those receiving assistance, as well as adding to the administrative burden of the system and the front line workers trying to help individuals in need.

Increasing social assistance rates and developing a Minimum Income Standard

We know that the main driver of the need for food banks in Toronto is lack of income: this is in large part due to the extremely low levels of income provided by provincial social assistance.

The majority of clients accessing food banks in Toronto receive one of two provincial social assistance programs as their main source of income. According to Daily Bread’s most recent Who’s Hungry survey, 64% rely on either Ontario Works or ODSP as their main source of income.

As the labour market continues its shift from full-time employment to part-time employment, greater numbers of people out of work are forced to rely on provincial social assistance, and those with a disability are less likely to be able to access employer-triggered disability income programs.

Despite being a crucial source of income support for almost a million Ontarians, the levels of income have fallen so far behind inflation there would need to be a 41% increase in OW payments, and a 23% increase in ODSP payments, for them to be equivalent to what they were worth in 1993.

In order to address this crucial gap in income adequacy, the Roadmap proposes that rates be immediately increased by 10% for a single person receiving Ontario Works and 5% increase for those on ODSP. This increase would bring amounts to $794 and $1,209 respectively.

While the working group chose an amount that the government could realistically implement, it was recommended that the government move as quickly as possible to move those in deepest poverty towards an adequate level of income that more accurately reflects actual living costs.

While the Roadmap proposes this initially be done through direct increases to social assistance rates, the report states that the goal should be to bring every household in the province to a “Minimum Income Standard” through a combination of social assistance and other income supports by 2027-2028.

The defined Minimum Income Standard would initially be set at the same level as the official Low-Income Measure used by the province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (LIM-50) plus an additional 30% added for persons with a disability.

To reach this minimum standard would require supports that go beyond increases to provincial social assistance rates, and be part of a “building block” approach that combines municipal, provincial and federal cash benefits as well as housing supports and core health benefits (such as prescription drug coverage). This could also include a portable housing benefit, proposed by the Roadmap as a universal, income-tested benefit to provide direct financial assistance to help with high rental costs.

The Roadmap for Change provides achievable targets and tactics that will effect real change in the lives of people struggling with hunger and poverty in Ontario.

The Ontario Budget 2018 is a chance to take a solid step in the right direction and reach those targets.

Let’s get moving.


Date Added: February 8, 2018 | Filed under: Blog, Government, Information, News, Research — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 10:34 am



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



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



Daily Bread Letter to Mayor Tory and Executive Committee

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.

Sincerely,

richard-signature

Richard Matern
Senior Manager, Research
Daily Bread Food Bank
E: richardm@dailybread.ca
T: 416-203-0050 ext. 288

 


Date Added: June 28, 2016 | Filed under: Blog, Government, In the News, Information, News, Policy, Research — Tags: , , , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 9:00 am



5 things you should know about the 2016 Federal Budget

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Date Added: March 29, 2016 | Filed under: Blog, Government, In the News, News, Research — Tags: , , , , , — Adam Paralovos @ 1:46 pm