Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Urgent call to support the Ontario Child Benefit

Write a letter to the Toronto Star supporting the Ontario Child Benefit.

Yesterday’s lead Toronto Star editorial (see below) strongly endorses a new Ontario Child Benefit as a necessary poverty reduction tool in Ontario. The Daily Bread Food Bank is recommending as many people as possible write a letter to the Star today to demonstrate support for the OCB. Resources and letter-writing tips here.

Toronto Star Editorial - February 19, 2007

All children in low-income families deserve a fair and decent start in life, whether their parents struggle in low-wage jobs or are forced by circumstances to rely on welfare to make ends meet.

But in Ontario, unlike many other provinces, children in welfare families are unfairly punished by a provincial policy that denies their families a small amount of money – just $122 a month for each child – that would go a long way to help buy food, clothing and pay the rent.

Now, Finance Minister Greg Sorbara has a golden opportunity to right this wrong in his coming provincial budget, expected in April or early May, by taking the bold step of introducing an Ontario Child Benefit as part of a comprehensive and realistic poverty reduction strategy.

Sorbara said earlier this month he is looking at a "basket of tools" to address widespread poverty in this province.

In the Star's view, that basket should include raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour from $8 and bringing in a new Ontario Child Benefit to help both those on welfare and the working poor, a move that could then lead to the elimination of Ontario's current clawback of the National Child Benefit Supplement, which the Liberals pledged to do in the 2003 provincial election campaign.

Ontario's clawback of the national supplement was one of the most odious moves by the former Conservative government of premier Mike Harris. The supplement was designed to help parents who earn less than $36,000.

However, in Ontario, the provincial government claws back, or reduces, monthly benefits to people on welfare by an amount equal to 75 per cent of the federal benefit. That amounts to $122 a month per child.

Growing numbers of progressive policy planners are convinced that a more equitable way of helping both working poor families and those on welfare is to dramatically restructure the social assistance programs and de-link income support directed at children from the system entirely.

That is what is starting to happen in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland where all low-income families receive a separate, income-tested child benefit, regardless of whether their parents are working or are relying on welfare.

If adopted in Ontario, a provincial child benefit could be fully indexed, income-tested and provide needed funds to all low-income families with children up to the age of 18.

By extending the benefit to low-income working families, it would ensure that parents who try to move from welfare to the workforce are not penalized. Right now, the so-called "welfare wall" means many parents on social assistance cannot afford to take a job because it means giving up needed medical and dental coverage for their children that is currently paid by the government as long as the parents are on welfare.

When combined with Ottawa's child benefit supplement, the Ontario Child Benefit would insulate all children from their parents' financial ups and downs and ultimately lessen the reliance of many poor families on food banks to feed their children.

But the new Ontario benefit must not simply combine old programs into a new program with a different name. It must result in more money in the pockets of poor families. And it ultimately must provide enough money to raise the living standards of all low-income families.

If fully implemented in one step, such a program could cost up to $1 billion a year. If a provincial program was combined with the national plan, a single parent with one child, for example, would get $1,254 a month in assistance. Under the existing structure, the assistance is $1,132 monthly.

To ease the financial impact on the coming budget, the Ontario Child Benefit could be phased in, possibly over a three- to four-year period, with much of the benefit coming the first year. For instance, $60 a month might be instituted immediately, followed by an extra $31 a month in the each of the next two years, bringing the total to $122 month per child. Such a phased-in approach could mean Queen's Park would have to budget $300 million to $500 million in the first year, rather than $1 billion.

While some taxpayers may balk at the government spending such sums of money, all Ontarians have a vested interest in addressing poverty because a healthy, well-educated and more prosperous workforce will help drive the provincial economy into the future.

In the end, helping children grow up in the best possible environment is not only a sensible goal, but also the right thing for Sorbara to do.

p.s. Don't forget to participate in the Federal Government's online pre-budget consultation before Feb 28, 2007. The site asks you to rank your priorities, and then lets you comment on each one. It's pretty limited but you can select “Spending” and “Other” as your top priorities, and then on the next page write comments detailing your thoughts. It only takes a minute. (more info)

1 comment:

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