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Sudbury Star (ON)
Wed 23 Jul 2008

Sudbury is one of four municipalities across Ontario that has decided to provide winter clothing and back-to school allowances, cancelled by the province, for the municipality’s poorest families.

“I want to commend the mayor for actually stepping up to the plate and saying we’re not going to allow children in this community to go without … So are the cities of Toronto, London and Ottawa,” said Sid Ryan, Ontario President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

In August and then November, families on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program would receive first extra money for school supplies and then for winter coats and boots. The combined allowances meant families with a toddler would receive $111, while those with one teenage would get $245.

However, in July the Ontario Child Benefit came into effect. As Ryan explained, this new program takes the National Tax Benefit, clawed back by the Mike Harris government 10 years ago, and spreads it out among three groups of poor people — those on social assistance, disability programs, and the working poor — with monthly increases of up to $50. However, no more special allowances will come in the fall for these families who had counted on them in the past.

“It’s not a full elimination of the clawback. The clawback was worth about $122 per child,” Ryan said at a press conference in Sudbury on Tuesday.

“We want to say we support the government program of the Ontario Child Benefit … But the one part of this program we’re saying is seriously flawed and the Liberals are going to have to change it.”

CUPE is calling on the Liberal government to reinstate both allowances.

Luisa Valle, director of social services for Sudbury, said under a cost-sharing agreement with the province, the city will pay 20 per cent and Ontario 80 per cent of this “one-time allowance to help out in the transition.”

“We’re doing this on a one-on- one, case-by-case basis. But technically it will benefit all,” Valle said. “They can call us, if they haven’t already talked to us. We definitely will make sure we talk to each of the individuals.”

Valle said the cost of helping Sudbury’s families out with the loss of these two allowances has been “budgeted for our system.”

However, children who don’t live in the four municipalities willing to bridge the transition won’t be so lucky.

“So now we’re living in a two-tiered system. That’s grossly unfair,” said Ryan.

Even harder to understand is the fact that since the new benefit only started this month, families will have not been able to save for this year’s school supplies and winter coats, he said.

Another problem the union foresees is how will families, whose resources are already thinly stretched, be able to tuck away extra money each month for these fall expenses.

“At the end of the day, if a parent is faced with the choice of putting food on the table or saving a little bit of money from that welfare cheque every month, you know the decision they’re going to make,” Ryan said.

While the former allowances helped poor families, they certainly didn’t cover all the costs of back to school expenses and clothes, said frontline social service worker Bev Patchell.

“We can’t believe the government is taking these allowances away. It’s going to create hardship and the differential treatment for these families who are struggling,” she said. “They’re amongst the poorest and most marginalized in our communities. It’s really no way to showcase the provincial government commitment to reducing poverty.”

NDP France Gelinas, MPP for Nickel Belt, said this is an issue her party has been raising in the house, over and over again.

“As long as the Ontario Works, the disability support program and the minimum wage is so low that people are forced to live in poverty, way below the poverty line. It doesn’t make sense to take it away,” she said.

At a forum, she hosted on poverty in her riding, Gelinas was told the second most important issue for poor families is social inclusion.

“That money, that they’re not going to get, went a long way towards social inclusion,” she said.

“Because if your parents don’t have the money to buy you new shoes everyone know you’re poor … It is so damaging to the children of Sudbury. Damaging enough that our municipal council decided to step in.”

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. To be eligible for the Ontario Child Benefit, a parent doesn’t necessarily have to be an Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program recipient. Anyone with children under 18 earning less than $25,000 a year will be eligible for the program, providing they are registered for the federal Canada Child Tax Benefit and filed their 2007 income tax. . Those making between $25,000 and $30,000 are also eligible if they have more than one child.

. The maximum monthly payment of $50 per child starts this month. The benefit will increase annually to about $90 per child per month in 2011.

. The cancelled back-to school allowance combined with the winter clothes allowance came out to: $111 for kids up to three; $184 for children four to 12 years; and $245 for youth 13-18 years. . Thus, a single mother of one on Ontario Works (making $11,000 a year), who has had her child’s winter clothes and back to school allowance cancelled, will only be better off by $31 a month.