Dim or Brighter Prospects for Welfare Reform?: Fiorito

The report on welfare reform in Ontario does not go far enough.

By: Joe Fiorito Columnist, Published on Fri Apr 19 2013

Ted McMeekin is not a flashy man; he was, at one time, the minister of agriculture in Ontario. But he has a pretty good understanding of social issues, and he is a committed volunteer, and now he is the minister of community and social services.

It is in this latter capacity that he came to make some closing remarks at a recent conference on welfare reform, held in Oakville.

McMeekin took the podium to a smattering of polite applause, but before he had a chance to say how happy he was to be there, someone in the audience yelled at him: “Reject austerity.”

He was taken aback.

He stuck out his chin and said, “If you want, you can come up and speak.” The people said, “Oh, oh.” McMeekin said, in a mock aside, “Tough crowd.”

Here’s why the crowd was tough.

Some 200 people who are living on welfare or disability pensions, and the people who work on their behalf — all from Halton Region — had just spent the best part of the day assessing “Brighter Prospects,” a report which recommends increasing Ontario welfare rates.

That’s good, right?

No, it is not good enough. Here are some highlights:

It is recommended that the basic rate for Ontario Works rise from $606 to $706 a month; the increase will be paid for, in part, by the elimination of other benefits, such as the special diet allowance.

If you think that’s enough money to live on, you are from another planet. If you think it is good to fund the poor by stealing from the poor, then I don’t want to know you.

The report recommends that if you are on disability benefits, and you decide to share your life with another person, then the second person’s benefits will be reduced to 86 per cent.

Stop right there.

It is foolish to think that two can live as cheaply as one. Worse, this sort of provision encourages you to nod, and your partner to wink. In other words, if you are poor and in love, you have to lie if you want to keep your benefits.

Another recommendation suggests that, if you are on welfare, you are allowed to earn 200 bucks a month in order to supplement your income; earn anything over that it will be clawed back at a rate of 57 per cent.

Stop right there.

This simply encourages people to work under the table. What we should be doing is encouraging people to earn as much money as they can, so that they might leave welfare altogether.

The report also recommends that people be allowed to keep more of their assets when they go on welfare or benefits. Oh. You didn’t know about the assets.

I talked to a guy who said a friend lost his job a while back and, in order to be eligible for support, the friend was told he had to get rid of his car. Others have had to ditch their savings, and so on, in order to qualify. Now they can keep a pittance more. And this is me, taking off my cap and tugging at my forelock.

The report also suggests that one of the goals is to target and cap the rate of growth of ODSP cases.

In my experience, targets are blunt instruments, and caps are devoid of nuance; also, this puts good social workers in a position where they, too, may have to lie in order to protect their clients.

Had Mr. McMeekin been at the conference all day, he would have heard suggestions that the government should pay child support and claw it back from negligent parents, based on income tax returns, rather than force women — yes, it is mostly women — to spend their own resources hunting down fathers who don’t pay support.

He would have heard suggestions about the need to make sure that poor people can afford proper nutrition; I think, as a former minister of agriculture, he might agree with that.

He closed by saying, almost cheekily, that everyone liked the fact that there is a report, even if not everyone liked the report.

“Brighter Prospects”?

Alas, not bright enough.

Joe Fiorito appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. jfiorito@thestar.ca

Reproduced from http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/04/19/dim_or_brighter_prospects_for_welfare_reform_fiorito.html