It’s not quite the same as Rice Krispies’ ‘Snap…Crackle…Pop’ but there is a government strategy in the Ontario Budget cuts to social assistance announced on March 27, 2012.
It would do an adman proud. Maybe it should have been ‘game, set and match’ or ‘hook, line and sinker’.
To be fair, it’s not the same as the day of reckoning in 1938 when the Hepburn government announced rate decreases of 15% or July 21, 1995 when Finance Minister Ernie Eves announced General Welfare cuts of 21.6%. These were two days of infamy in the last 100 years of social services history that know no parallel.
But March 27, 2012 will take a close second with the October 20, 1997 announcements of Ontario Works legislation and the cancellation of Supplementary Aid and Special Assistance under the General Welfare Assistance Act, along with cuts to shelter payments to persons without a permanent address.
There appears to be little seasonality to these announcements except they each came in spring, summer, or fall. I just can’t seem to find one announced in the winter. Perhaps there is logic to that.
Aside from the delay of the OCB and the announcement of no social assistance rate increase, the major changes to the community start-up benefit, home repairs and the medical benefits under Ontario Works (OW) are ‘pooled’ with other benefits.
In the case of the community start-up, it is now pooled with the long term affordable housing fund at the municipal level. This pooling means that the start-up and home repairs will lose the right of appeal under the Social Benefits Tribunal.
Medical benefits under Ontario Works will be pooled with other non-medical benefits but still paid out under OW.
All three benefits will be capped because they are now subject to budgetary or per capita caps. Municipalities will be forced to pay any benefits above the funded amounts out of their own resources should they wish to do so. Start-up and home repairs have a budgetary cap while medical items under OW will have a $10.00 per capita cap.
Start-up and home repair benefits will be cut in half. Medical benefits under OW will be cut by an undetermined amount. The overall savings from the OCB deferral and the benefit cuts will be in the order of $300 million dollars over the next three years. These are not my estimates. These numbers are in the Budget.
None of the programs are truly canceled. They have just been downloaded.
This approach is familiar. It happened in the 1990’s during Mr. Harris’ term and during the early 1940’s when we were at war. Some armchair historians argue these times were synonymous.
Once statutory benefits (based on need) become rationed (based on budget allocation), the result is that the level of government least equipped to pay is pressured to pay the freight.
We have been here before.
There are four major themes that go beyond the obvious for a government that runs buck-scared of deficits and wishes to maintain balance in the arcane world of party politics; a world that trades one dollar of revenue growth for every three in spending reductions.
The first is that two major chasms faced by the social assistance review have just been widened:
· OW is being made much more threadbare than ODSP; and Municipalities are being asked to do much more than they ever expected
The second is that many statutory benefits are now subject to rationing;
The third is that social assistance is being broken into many pieces – not such a bad thing when the pieces are being picked up; but
The fourth is that a significant skirmish in the deficit fight will be fought on the backs of the most destitute among us.
This government gave us a huge milestone in the history of poverty reduction in 2008. They have three years to achieve redemption.
As part of that, we must seriously rethink the role of social assistance in our income security system as it has proved to be an unsustainable model.
Who among us would have thought that disability benefits, once paid at the same level as seniors’ benefits, would now be $250 a month lower?
Who among us would have thought it would require a 57% rate increase to raise single welfare rates to their purchasing power of 1993.
Who among us would have thought that basic social assistance for a single person in 2012 would be frozen at a rate lower in real terms than it was when the conservatives left power almost 9 years ago, following a 21.6% rate decrease and eight years of erosion?
Who among us would have believed that the difference between ODSP and OW shelter rates would be exactly 21.6%, 17 years after the cuts were implemented?
The gauntlet is laid down and the challenge apparent. It is up to all of us to regain the high ground. I wish us all well.