Welfare cuts under attack

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@arcos.org)
Fri, 15 May 1998 07:14:01 -0400


May 15, 1998

 Welfare cuts under attack

May violate rights code, Toronto commissioner says

By Laurie Monsebraaten
Toronto Star Social Policy Reporter


Toronto will see more squeegee kids and homeless families as a result of
the province's decision to slash welfare for people who live with their
parents, the city's community services commissioner predicts.

What's worse, the new rule may violate Ontario's Human Rights Code and
even the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Shirley Hoy said in a
report to the city's community and neighbourhood services committee.

``The department is concerned that . . . the recent regulations will
have the effect of driving youth out of their family environment rather
than encouraging them to maximize support from their families,'' she
said in the report released yesterday.

The changes also ``would seem to penalize single parents who seek their
families' help,'' the report said.

The city isn't sure how many people will be affected, but Hoy estimates
that several hundred could see their welfare cut or eliminated as a
result of the new rule.

The regulation change, which took effect in April, was made to ensure
that welfare remains a system of last resort, Social Services Minister
Janet Ecker said in a recent interview.

If people have families they can live with, taxpayers shouldn't be
expected to pay welfare, she said.

Under the old rules, anyone over age 21 was eligible for welfare.

Now, only adults who have a spouse or who have had a spouse are deemed
``financially independent'' and eligible for welfare.

All others who live with their families - no matter what their age -
will be cut off.

Although single parents who have never had a spouse and are living with
their parents won't be eligible for welfare, their children will
qualify.

Those who are living with parents on social assistance will no longer be
eligible for welfare in their own right, but will be included as a
dependent of the family.

In her report, Hoy said the Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits
discrimination based on marital or family status.

And while the federal Charter isn't specific in this area, there may
also be grounds for a legal challenge, she added.

``Our legal staff are telling us that the regulations treat two
individuals with the same needs in very different ways just because they
live with their parents,'' Hoy said in an interview. ``There's no
question this raises some very serious human rights issues.''

While Hoy accepts Ecker's reasoning that families should be ultimately
responsible for their children, it may not hold true for working poor
families or those on social assistance.

In such cases, a young adult or single parent who could benefit
significantly from the family's emotional support and guidance, might be
pressured to move out because of the welfare cut, Hoy said in her
report.

Under the old welfare system, there was a financial incentive for
families to remain intact, she said.

But under the changes more people will opt to live on their own, putting
youth and single parents and their children at greater risk of
homelessness, she said. And in families where adult children on welfare
remain, the drop in total household income may put the whole family at
risk of homelessness, she added.

MORE PRESSURE

``This will not help them get off welfare and into the work force, but
will put more pressure on our welfare and hostel system,'' she said.

Toronto Councillor Gordon Chong (Don Parkway), who heads the community
services committee, said the city has been trying to meet with
provincial officials for almost a month to discuss a raft of new
regulations.

``It's hard to know what they are thinking when they don't talk to us,''
he said yesterday, adding that two previous appointments were cancelled
and that a third is set for next week.

``The additional cuts are going to make it pretty difficult for the
working poor and people on welfare to make ends meet,'' he said. ``It
could be counterproductive in getting people back in the work force.''

In other changes that will hurt Toronto residents, Hoy's report says,
Queen's Park has:

=95 Lowered the age of young people eligible for back-to-school and winte=
r
clothing allowances to 18 from 21. About 1,300 young people will no
longer be eligible for the $128 back-to-school benefit in August, and
about 3,500 will lose the $105 winter clothing allowance in November.

=95 Eliminated the special assistance and supplementary aid programs that
used to help about 150 individuals and families each month pay for
hearing aids, prosthetics, wheelchairs, respiratory equipment and
medical supplies.

The report calls on the health ministry to cover the full cost of
medical items currently provided under the two programs for low-income
people.

=95 Eliminated extended health benefits that provided drug cards to about
300 low-income working families each month.

In the past several months, the province has released scores of
regulations as part of its welfare reforms.

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