Ontario needs to tackle poverty

By  Catholic Charities of the archdiocese of Toronto
  • March 11, 2007

Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from a brief presented to the Ontario Legislature’s standing committee on finance and economic affairs last month by Catholic Charities. The next provincial budget is expected to be revealed March 22.

There is a crisis that continues to grow in our midst. It is one that affects the poor and marginalized and the most vulnerable in our society.

The crisis is evident in the limited administrative funds provided for social service agencies to ensure that their programs are fully able to meet the needs of people they serve. It is apparent in the lack of affordable and assisted housing for low-income families, singles and developmentally disabled. It is marked in the clawback of the National Child Benefit supplement that needlessly strips benefits from poor children.

It is also visible in the precarious situation faced by the working poor where income insecurity could be replaced by economic security through an increase in the basic minimum wage.

We need to develop a budget for our province that addresses these concerns in 2007. If we do, we will take a large step forward toward alleviating the chronic poverty that affects thousands in Ontario, especially those families with children and the developmentally disabled.

The current crisis was in large measure created by a previous government whose actions in the late 1990s led to substantial cuts to the province’s social service commitment. The current government is to be commended for its efforts to redress the situation, but there is still so much more that needs to be done.

The 28 member agencies of Catholic Charities reach over 227,000 people in Toronto, Dufferin, Durham, Peel, York and Simcoe County — and the numbers are growing.

We draw our strength from the support of the archdiocese of Toronto, the largest in Canada with 1.7 million Catholics in 225 parishes.

Drawing on a depth of our experience from hundreds of programs, Catholic Charities strongly encourages the government as it develops the budget for 2007 to do all that it can to affect positively the lives of the thousands of people, especially children, who live in conditions that are mired in chronic poverty and insecurity.

We would like to make three recommendations:

  • Provide supplementary funds for full implementation of programs, especially with regard to services for seniors, families, women, developmentally disabled, those living with HIV and AIDS and young parents.

While funding for programs is forthcoming, there has been an increase in the costs related to the administration of programs that grows almost exponentially as the numbers of people seeking services grows, straining an agency's capacity to respond.

Administrative funding for social service programs has not kept pace with the increase in those programs’ administrative costs, even as the need for these programs continues to grow.

It has become increasingly clear that unless base funding for administration of the programs already underway, and to be developed in future, is significantly increased, then the level of response to people who rely on these social services will erode.

It is possible to change that by providing administrative funds that match the needs of the programs. Nothing less than the effectiveness and integrity of the programs hangs in the balance.

  • Provide affordable housing for low-income families and singles.

The ability of low-income families and singles to find decent, affordable housing is the difference between providing an opportunity for people to become full, active partners in society or flinging them back into poverty only to require more, and consequently costlier, social assistance.

We consider the province's actions to resolve the divergence with the current federal government over terms of the Canada-Ontario Agreement to be essential. We are also aware, however, that as of December 2005, the federal government reported that $474 million of the $1 billion Affordable Housing Program begun in 2001 remained unspent. That means that approximately $392 million ($312 million for affordable housing, and $80 million for off-reserve native housing) remains in a provincial trust account.

We have been pleased to see that the province has remained committed to reversing the negative trend toward construction of affordable and assisted housing. Since the signing of the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Agreement in April 2005, however, there have been only 6,500 new units built, which falls short of the 20,000 new units proposed for construction. With a waiting list that now tops 122,000 people, it will take tens years or more for people to get housing. This must not be allowed to continue while thousands of people desperately need affordable housing.

Housing is crucial to positive change and helping people begin a new life. For low-income families, those with developmental disabilities, housing and assisted housing means a safe haven and a decent place to raise their families. For people living with developmental disabilities especially, it ensures a sense of dignity and self-worth as a full participant in civil society.

(Editor’s note: On Feb. 28, almost a month after this presentation, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that he was finally freeing up $392 million that had been caught up in a fiscal dispute with the federal government.)

  • Provide for low-income parents and their children.

To begin to address the persistent poverty that exists in Ontario, the government must improve the conditions of children. One way to achieve this is to end the deduction or clawback of the National Child Benefit Supplement from general welfare payments of low-income parents on social assistance.

The practice is discriminatory since it punishes a child whose family is on social assistance by giving them less than a child whose low-income parents are employed regardless of the low-paying jobs they might have.

We are aware that some of these clawed-back funds have been used to support a number of programs for children. We do not want to see these discontinued, no matter how the government decides to deal with this issue.

A child living in a family that receives welfare needs more support, not less, and should be treated equally with a child from a poor, low-income family. It is a flawed rationale that dictates that government must limit funds meant for the well-being of a child simply to ensure that a "welfare wall" is sustained between those children from families on social assistance and those from the working poor.

The government should introduce in its 2007 Budget a new child benefit plan that is integrated with the National Child Benefit supplement, and one that ensures that no child, already suffering deprivation, should have to endure more.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.