Written by: Michael Swan, Catholic Register
Thursday, 04 April 2013
TORONTO – The religious leaders who run food banks, shelters and community services want this spring’s Ontario budget to boost incomes for minimum-wage employees and people on Ontario Works.
In the end, more money going to Ontario’s poorest citizens will save the government money, said the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition in its 2013 pre-budget submission to Finance Minister Charles Sousa.
The government’s deficit challenges and rising debt are no excuse for doing nothing, said ISARC chair Rev. Susan Eagle.
“If we accept the idea that there are limited resources — and we do of course, we’re reasonable people — then there has to be some re-evaluating of priorities,” Eagle told The Catholic Register. “The fact that people are going hungry in our province has to become a higher priority than it is right now. Perhaps other things get deferred, other things get reorganized.”
The ISARC proposal suggests that Ontario Works benefits increase by an immediate $100 and that welfare rates be adjusted annually for inflation. The current Ontario Works rate for a single person is $606 per month.
With minimum wage frozen at $10.25 per hour since 2010, a full-time job is no longer lifting people out of poverty, said ISARC. When the minimum wage was moving up annually between 2004 and 2010 child poverty in families with full-time, full-year work dropped nearly 40 per cent, said ISARC’s submission. In the 1995 to 2004 period when minimum wage was frozen, despite increases in full-time employment, child poverty in families where at least one parent had a full-time job rose to nearly 50 per cent.
ISARC wants the minimum wage at $14 per hour this year and then adjusted annually.
Getting more money in the hands of poor people, combined with programs that support employment, independence and stable families, saves the province money, said Eagle.
“We put far too much money in the cure at the end of the road rather than the prevention in the first place,” she said.
Poverty is driving up health care and criminal justice costs, said ISARC.
Homelessness is another big drain on the province’s bank account.
“In the Waterloo Region, the cost of a shelter bed is $49 per day while the cost of a permanent home can be as little as $13 per day. In a time of fiscal restraint, why do we continue to choose to spend more to keep people homeless instead of making the moral and fiscally responsible choice of investing in affordable housing and homelessness prevention?” asks ISARC.