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June 3, 2013

Socking it to the poor

Reuel S. Amdur

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It seems that, when governments decide that it is time for sacrifices to be made, the poor are called upon first. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty followed this principle on his way out the door, leaving social assistance recipients with new burdens. He cut discretionary welfare funding to local governments. Let's take a look at Ottawa as an example of the consequences.

Suppose someone loses a wallet.  Sorry, food vouchers are no longer available.  If a person needs a prescription filled urgently and does not have a drug card handy, there can be no reimbursement.  Provision of bus tickets is tightened severely.  A lost bus pass will not be partially replaced with tickets.

Ontario Works was so named by Premier Mike Harris to focus the system on getting people to return to the job market.  Well, people involved in work-seeking programs who are on Ontario Works for more than six months lose their bus pass and money for such things as haircuts.  Do you see a disconnect here?

Ottawa was one of the few municipalities that shelled out for religious ceremonies with funerals.  No more. 

Certain health needs are no longer covered.  Ottawa’s Ontario Works will no longer pay for a humidifier for an asthmatic child.  The Ministry of Health has an Assistive Devices Program which covers a percentage of the cost of things like wheelchairs.  Ottawa will no longer pick up the remaining amount, leaving the disabled without.  Sorry about that wheelchair.

Among health benefits cut, Ottawa will no longer cover medicine for eradicating lice.  This cut is bizarre. 

One is reminded of the old days of Jim Crow in the U.S. South.  In one small Mississippi town, the local politicians undertook a mosquito abatement program, just for the white side of town.  But these were equal opportunity mosquitos, and they drifted over to the white side of town as well.  Lice are also equal opportunity insects and will not restrict their activities just to the children of social assistance families.

McGuinty ended the social assistance Community Start-Up Benefit (CSUB).  The program primarily covered moving-related expenses.  If a family had to move because of unhealthy conditions, steep rent increases, the chance to get into social housing, or any other reason, moving costs and necessary furniture and appliances (usually restricted to once every two years) up to a ceiling could be covered.  The government replaced this program with what sounds like something more progressive, the Community Homeless Prevention Program, open not only to social assistance recipients but also to other people on low income.  However, this program is funded by the province to the municipalities at a far lower rate than the old CSUB.  That is McGuinty’s gift to the poor.

One is reminded of the words of Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid, on learning of the Greek’s gift to the Trojans of a wooden horse:  “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.” “I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.”

As noted, the poor are the ones who must make the sacrifices. Meantime, over the years Ontario has gone on a flurry of corporate tax cuts to encourage investment.  Needless to say, these cuts have not accomplished their aim.  And for that tax cutting binge, the poor must pay.

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