Ontario’s government recently released a $17 billion action plan to bolster the health care system and provide direct support for people and jobs.
There are many important initiatives included in this plan that will have a positive impact on individuals and families who were already living in poverty, as well as those who have been laid off from work and are now facing financial hardship.
Key initiatives in the package include:
- A $148 million investment in the social service sector, which will go to municipal relief efforts including food banks and other community-run programs.
- Increased access to Emergency Assistance to help households struggling to pay for basic needs, such as rent and food.
- A one-time payment of $200 per child up to the age of 12 and $250 for children with special needs to support the extra costs associated with school and daycare closures.
- A proposal to double the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) payment for low-income seniors for six months.
- Expanded access to the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) to help households pay for utilities and mandating electricity to be billed at the “off-peak” price 24 hours a day for 45 days.
- Providing six months of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan and interest accrual relief for students.
This action plan will have a significant impact on helping low-income households meet their basic needs during this challenging time.
In order to strengthen the action plan further, we have recommended that the provincial government:
- Ensure people on social assistance can access federal benefits
Currently, if someone on social assistance were to access the new federal benefits, including the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit, their social assistance payments would be reduced dramatically. People who receive social assistance are already living in deep poverty; it is critical that these families be able to access the federal benefits to be able to meet their basic needs.
- Provide financial relief to help cover the cost of internet and cellular service
Low-income households need these tools to stay connected while self-isolating at home but face significant affordability challenges. Staying digitally connected is critical to receive updates on the pandemic, as well as to stay connected to social support networks, including friends, family, case workers, and counsellors.
- Make the Low-Income Family Tax (LIFT) benefit refundable
Under the current benefit, workers earning below $25,100 receive no benefit from LIFT. By changing this tax benefit from non-refundable to refundable, it will ensure that the lowest-income workers receive financial benefit. Putting money into the pockets of low-income households allows them to purchase food, clothing and other basic necessities, which fuels the economy.
We will continue to work collaboratively with all levels of government to ensure that all people are able to access their most basic human needs during COVID-19 and moving forward.