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:
Implement a Standard Flat Rate, collapsing the Basic Needs Allowance and Shelter Allowance portions of social assistance into one amount;
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.
“We need to figure out a way to fund agencies to ensure that people have the nourishment that they need…It’s a shame that this is something that is needed, but it is. And we need to do our best as a city to find space for them.” Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) – Article from the Toronto Star, Tues. Jan 2, 2018
In its pre-budget submission to the City, the Toronto Food Policy Council made several recommendations to be considered in the 2018 Poverty Reduction Strategy work plan, including requesting the availability for space for a range of food related programming1.
Daily Bread Food Bank echoes this recommendation, in particular the recommendation to enable access to space in Toronto Community Housing properties for food banks and other food programming available to the wider community.
In many cases, accessing suitable space from which to distribute food can be as challenging as keeping up with the demand for food. In its commitment to its Poverty Reduction Strategy and creating a more fair and equitable city, the City of Toronto can use the 2018 budget as a recognition of the rapidly growing numbers of people struggling with hunger by providing access to its surplus space from which to run community led food programs such as food banks, at little or no extra cost to the city.
Demand for food banks in Toronto is growing rapidly, but available spaces from which to operate them are shrinking
From April 2016 to March 2017, there were a total of 990,970 client visits to Daily Bread Food Bank and North York Harvest Food Bank member agencies. This is the highest annual client visit number in Toronto since 2010, when the effects of the 2008 recession hit Torontonians with full force. This is 9 per cent higher than 2016, and 24 per cent higher than 2008.
The surge in demand has not only affected food banks’ ability to provide food, but in some cases their ability to accommodate growing numbers of clients in program spaces. Last year, 22 per cent of Daily Bread agencies reported they had difficulty in providing adequate waiting room space to accommodate people accessing the program.
The majority of Daily Bread’s 130 member agencies run their food programs in local churches and community centres, and the space available to accommodate clients is varied: some have large open spaces in churches, while others have their clients line in hallways, stairwells or outside. Challenges related to space include property maintenance and accessibility issues in the case of church-run programs, and lack of space and rent increases for some community centres. As Toronto continues to gentrify and available space with which to run food programs becomes more expensive and precarious, more neighbourhood food banks across the city will struggle accommodating clients in the future as the need continues to grow.
When does access to space for food programs in Toronto become an equity issue? The Scarborough story
The most recent census data shows that census tracts with the highest concentrations of people living with low income, as well as highest percentages of visible minorities, are in the northern and outer reaches of the city. Coincidentally, those are also the areas where there are not enough food banks to keep up with the demand; existing food banks are also located so far apart many clients can`t afford transportation to get to them. Additionally, the spaces in which these programs operate are themselves vulnerable to rapidly rising rent costs.
For Daily Bread member agencies, the area of the city where the issue of space is of particular concern is Scarborough.
“Currently we do not pay rent, however [the housing provider] is considering implementing a rent or utility cost for commercial tenants like us. We have significantly outgrown this space but with no rent n our budget, we are unable to move to a more suitable location.” Food bank in Scarborough
A hot real estate market is making it increasingly difficult for some food programs to either find or maintain a suitable space from which to operate. While some food programs are run by faith-based groups who have space provided free of charge by the sponsoring organization, others, such as those located in larger community centres or public housing units, have to pay for the space. This is especially an issue in north and east Scarborough which, compared to the city core, have less “’faith-based infrastructure” such as church space, which means food programs have to find other space that they can afford.
Food banks in Toronto, including those operated by multiservice centres, do not receive government funding and mostly rely on private donations. As affordable space in Toronto becomes more challenging to find, many food banks, including those in Scarborough, will be in an increasingly vulnerable position to maintain their operations, despite rapidly increasing need.
Of the seven wards in Scarborough that have Daily Bread member agency food banks:
Five have shown increases of over 10 per cent in client visits in the last year alone;
Wards 39 and 40, both in the Agincourt area of north Scarborough, have seen increases of over 70 per cent, the highest increases in the city.
Food banks in Scarborough report seeing high numbers of recent newcomers, including convention refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Nigeria. Many are paying on average 82 per cent of their income on rent and utilities, and have very little left over for essentials like food.
And it’s not just food banks that struggle to find or maintain space to operate in these areas. Other kinds of food-related programming that can be essential tools of community development for low income or newcomer communities, such as urban farming or community kitchens, also face ongoing roadblocks in finding space to run programs.
Many would agree that being able to access food is a human right. However lack of adequate income supports, alongside diminishing space from which to help low income communities, mean that this right is becoming increasingly out of reach for too many.
Help create a more equitable city: enable food banks to have more access to city-owned space.
By identifying and facilitating access to space of City owned properties for food access, the City can demonstrate its commitment to its Poverty Reduction Strategy, as well as equity and human rights.
1 “That City staff identify spaces for use by community-led initiatives (both growing spaces, and office, program and cooking spaces), based on current inventories of surplus space, and that staff focus on NIAs in identifying these spaces.” Letter from the Toronto Food Policy Council to the Executive Committee of Toronto City Council, November 27, 2017.
Daily Bread Food Bank believes that research is critical to creating social change to reduce poverty, so every year we collect data from food banks across Toronto to publish the Who’s Hungry Report.
Based on issues that affect food bank clients, the Who’s Hungry Report helps advocate for policy changes that improve the lives of children and adults living in poverty.
And to create our Who’s Hungry Report we need volunteers!
If you are over 19 years old and fluent in reading, writing and speaking English, you can volunteer. We also need volunteers who can speak other languages. Survey training will be provided.
When and Where
Surveying starts in February and goes to the end of April. Hours and shifts will vary but most shifts are 2 to 3 hours long. We conduct surveys in more than 50 food banks across Toronto.
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.
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 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
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, 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
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.
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.”
Is 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.
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.
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.