Posted September 17, 2019
Hamilton is trying to make up million-dollar-plus shortfalls this year and next in Ontario Works services amid a provincial funding freeze.
"There's going to be some service impact to this. I don't how what that is yet. We're still working through the budget," Paul Johnson, general manager of healthy and safe communities for the city, said Monday.
Johnson noted that the city recently learned of the flatlined provincial allocations for 2020 in a Sept. 12 letter from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.
His department must try to make it work in 2019 and 2020 based on 2018's actual budget of $140 million. That works out to a gap of roughly $1.2 million this year and at least $1.5 million next year.
Johnson emphasized that the Ontario Works rates of individual recipients will not be affected by the provincial freeze. However, he said, the freeze could bring a change in how services are delivered — the speed or where people can access them, for instance.
He said his department will do "as much as humanly possible" to protect the front-line services that help guide clients through the process.
"We know that the value in our casework in Ontario Works comes from the ability to intervene and provide support that allows people to move forward. It's not simply a transactional approach."
The city handles an Ontario Works caseload of roughly 10,000, which amounts to about 22,000 people. About 300 staff work on the file.
In the Sept. 12 letter to the city, the province says it's "looking for more effective and efficient ways to deliver services that are sustainable for the future and focused on improving outcomes."
Patti Redmond, the ministry's director of social assistance service delivery, also told the city to expect less for Ontario Works administrative costs "from modernization" in 2021.
The funding freeze comes amid a series of cuts to municipally delivered services under Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government.
The provincial austerity exercise is affecting a wide variety of departments and services, including public health, housing, long-term care and paramedics.
Tory MPP Donna Skelly, who represents Flamborough-Glanbrook, wasn't available for comment late Monday.
In July 2018, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said it was reforming social assistance. "We need to do more than just help people remain mired in poverty," then-minister Lisa MacLeod said in announcing the coming changes.
But anti-poverty advocates have accused the Tories of waging a "war on the poor" through scaled-back social assistance increases, a scrapped basic income pilot, cuts to legal aid and other policy changes.
Mike Wood, chair of Hamilton ACORN, an organization that looks out for the interests of low- and moderate-income earners, said Ontario Works service cuts will affect recipients.
Just getting a cheque can already be complicated with paperwork mixups that leave clients frustrated, Wood said, adding it's not the fault of service staff, who are "overworked."
"That's where these cuts in services actually hurt a lot of people."
On Nov. 1, the Ford government's elimination of the Transition Child Benefit — which 1,800 children in Hamilton receive — takes effect. The program has helped refugee-claimant and low-income families who can't access Ontario and Canada child benefits.
Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator