Pregnant women to lose benefit

Graeme Bacque (
Thu, 16 Apr 1998 06:44:28 -0400

April 16, 1998

 Pregnant women to lose benefit

Mothers-to-be on welfare no longer to receive $37 a month allowance

By Patricia Orwen and Laurie Monsebraaten
Toronto Star Social Policy Reporters

Pregnant women living on welfare will lose a $222 food allowance in the
latest round of provincial social service cuts.

Under regulations governing the province's new workfare legislation
released earlier this month, the pregnancy benefit of $37-a-month for
six months will not be made available to pregnant women who apply after
May 1.

Those currently receiving the benefit will not be cut off.

The province says 1.5 per cent of those on social assistance, or more
than 8,000 cases, will be affected by the cutback.

``It sounds trivial, but this money may make the difference between a
pregnant woman drinking milk or not drinking milk or having occasional
fresh vegetables or going without,'' said Ian Morrison, co-chair of the
Ontario Social Safety Network.

``I would be devastated if I couldn't get it,'' said Toronto mother
Tammy Etto, who is four months pregnant with her second child and is
planning to apply for the benefit.

``For me it means stocking up on milk. It means I can get meat . . . It
means I can get the extra iron I need,'' said Etto, who used the benefit
when she was pregnant with her first child.

Etto lives with her husband and 2-year-old daughter in a west-end
basement apartment. The couple and their child receive $1,030 a month in
social assistance and find that after paying rent they are left with
only $150 a month to buy food.

``We have to use the food banks, but we can't always get the fresh food
I need during pregnancy,'' said Etto.

Sue Cox, executive director of the Daily Bread Food Bank, said 4,000
pregnant women use food banks every month in the Greater Toronto Area
and most need more than the food banks can provide.

Provincial officials, however, defend the cutting of the pregnancy
benefit, calling it essential in the creation of a new system of
``welfare reform and accountability.''

``We aren't saving money . . . we're making the welfare system more
accountable and ultimately getting people off assistance and back to
work, '' said Catherine Melville, assistant to Social Services Minister
Janet Ecker.


The province prefers benefits for specific needs


The problem with the pregnancy benefit, said Melville, is that the money
can be used for anything. The province prefers a more targeted system,
with payments tied to specific pregnancy costs.

For example, Melville said costs associated with obtaining a layette or
baby supplies may be covered through special assistance. Pregnant women
on welfare are also eligible for any drugs covered under the Ontario
Drug Benefit Program.

Anyone who is now receiving the pregnancy benefit will continue to
receive it for the remainder of the six-month period, said Melville, who
added that once a baby is born, the mother's welfare cheque increases
from $520 to $957 a month.

Toronto Children's Advocate Olivia Chow is outraged that the province
would cut money directed to pregnant women.

``This is wrong. It's mean. And it hurts children before they are even
born,'' she said yesterday. ``It's either gross incompetence or cruelty.
Either way, this government doesn't look good.''

Just last month, the province announced $3.2 million to improve the
health of babies in Toronto, Chow noted. It's part of the province's $10
million Healthy Babies, Healthy Children initiative.

``Now the social services ministry is taking money away from pregnant
women when they know good nutrition is key in preventing underweight
babies,'' she said.

Low birth weights put children at risk of life-long health and learning
problems. And underweight babies cost the health-care system thousands
of dollars due to longer hospital stays. ``I'll be calling on the
medical officer of health and the mayor to reverse this cut,'' Chow

Morrison said the loss of the pregnancy benefit is only one of numerous
changes in the welfare system that either cut benefits to welfare
recipients or make them harder to get.

``This government is determined to make the most destitute people even
more desperate,'' said Morrison, who cited a recent University of
Toronto study, which showed it is poor mothers who are most likely to go

The study of 153 mothers using food banks in 1996 and 1997 found their
diets were low in iron, magnesium, vitamin A, folate and calcium.


Poor mothers are more likely to go hungry


Although milk has been provided free of charge to some 200 women a year
in the former city of Toronto's Healthiest Babies Possible program, the
majority of pregnant women don't have access to this kind of service,
said Vida Stevens, a public health nutritionist with the Toronto public
health department. By the fourth month of pregnancy, a woman needs an
additional 300 calories a day and more of just about every nutrient.

Contents copyright =A9 1996-1998, The Toronto Star.
Graeme Bacque
(#2226799 on ICQ)
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