The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition is demanding an immediate $1 billion infusion to increase welfare cheques in the next provincial budget. Photo courtesy of Benson Kua, Wikimedia Commons

Billion or Bust campaign to increase welfare heats up at Queen’s Park

By 
  • February 23, 2017

With an earlier-than-usual budget coming down at Queen’s Park Feb. 25, the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition is demanding billions to help the poor rise to full participation in society.

“We got going on the Billion or Bust campaign just because of the urgency of this budget,” said ISARC chair Rev. Susan Eagle. “We’ve got one budget before the next election, basically — and that’s this one. The one next spring will be a lame-duck budget (going into an election).”

ISARC’s submission to pre-budget hearings in January asked for an immediate infusion of $1 billion to increase welfare cheques. Of that, $700 million would go directly into rate increases and another $300 million would be spent on expanding dental care and dropping rules that deny some people benefits.

The religious coalition also asked for another $1 billion over three years in spending on affordable housing.

Lastly, ISARC wants to see an immediate jump in the minimum wage to $15 from the inflation-indexed minimum of $11.40 per hour.

“$11.40 still leaves workers below the poverty line,” said the ISARC submission.

Catholic participation in ISARC includes the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

ISARC argues that $1 billion is less than one per cent of the provincial budget and that putting money in the hands of poor people is proven to stimulate the economy and reduce expenses to the government such as emergency room visits.

As part of the Billion or Bust campaign, religious leaders and individual parishes and congregations have been calling MPPs to back the demand for spending to end poverty.

“Right now, their focus is on eliminating the deficit,” Eagle said. “We consider that’s the same as saying to a child, ‘Wait until we pay the mortgage and then we’ll feed you.’”

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