The Hamilton Spectator

Social assistance rates need to rise

- SALLY PALMER SALLY PALMER, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, MCMASTER SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK, FOUNDED THE HAMILTON SOCIAL WORK ACTION COMMITTEE IN 1997.

Congratula­tions to journalist J.P. Antonacci for his article “Rising cost of food leaves social assistance recipients in poverty” (March 12).

He was describing the situation in Haldimand-Norfolk, but it applies across the province. The Ontario government has frozen the Ontario Works program (for unemployed low-income Ontarians) at $733 per month for single recipients since taking power in 2018. There is no way they can buy nutritious food and rent an apartment on this stringent budget.

As we know in Hamilton, an everincrea­sing number of recipients are being forced to live in tents and stand in food lineups despite the weather. In these deplorable conditions, many people end up in hospital emergency department­s, where they must be costing the health system more than they receive in social assistance.

Members of the Haldimand-Norfolk Board of Health (elected councillor­s) recently voted to write to the province asking that Ontario Works (OW) rates be tied to inflation. This action should be taken by all Ontario municipali­ties.

In October 2023 Colin Best, president of the Associatio­n of Municipali­ties of Ontario, wrote Michael Parsa, the minister responsibl­e for social assistance, asking for a meeting to discuss the precarious situation of OW recipients. He noted that those who become homeless are denied the shelter portion of their allowance, meaning that they lose up to $400 per month and become further entrenched in homelessne­ss.

There has been no change since then.

We might wonder why the Ontario government is ignoring recipients of OW, when it is now providing an annual cost-of-living raise to unemployed adults who are classified as “disabled.”

On June 26, 2023, Premier Doug Ford revealed his extreme negativity toward any person who is not “disabled” and is receiving government assistance.

In a speech to members of the Empire Club of Toronto, Queen’s Park reporter Jack Hauen quoted the premier as saying, “What drives me crazy is people on Ontario Works … healthy people sitting at home collecting your hard-earned dollars …”

Tamra Smith of Haldimand-Norfolk is one of these people. The pain from nerve damage after an automobile accident left her unable to work. Her initial applicatio­n for ODSP was refused and she lived on a meagre allowance from OW for 18 months before she was finally accepted for ODSP.

The premier’s negative attitude seems to have been successful in overriding any sympatheti­c government MPPs who might want to respond to inflation.

Ideally, municipal boards of health across Ontario will follow the example of Haldimand-Norfolk: they should communicat­e with the premier and relevant cabinet ministers, urging them to end the unfair freeze on Ontario Works which is so damaging to our poorest citizens.

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