POLITICS
10/03/2019 16:50 EDT

Ontario Backtracks Controversial Cuts To Foster Agencies, Kids In Poverty

The Progressive Conservatives are reversing their plans to cut the Transition Child Benefit and slash millions from children’s aid.

Richard Lautens via Getty Images
Ontario Minister Todd Smith speaks with Premier Doug Ford at an event in Markham, Ont.

TORONTO — A wave of relief washed over Toronto’s Romero House Thursday as refugee claimants who live there learned they won’t lose a monthly benefit from the Ontario government after all. 

“Obviously, I’m very happy for all of the families that live at Romero House, and so many more,” said Jenn McIntyre, the agency’s director. 

Romero House owns four houses where ten families of refugee claimants live; it also provides services to refugee claimants on a walk-in basis. 

Residents had been bracing for Nov. 1 for months. That was when the Progressive Conservatives had said they would cut off the Transition Child Benefit, a monthly payment for low-income families who don’t qualify for other tax benefits. 

On Thursday morning, The Toronto Star first reported that the province was backtracking on a host of cuts to social programs, including the Transition Child Benefit, which HuffPost Canada has now independently confirmed. 

She is obviously delighted because it allows her to keep feeding her kids.Jenn McIntyre

McIntyre said she knows one single mother of four who was going to see her social assistance payment drop from $2,000 a month to $1,100 with the now-cancelled cut. 

“She is obviously delighted because it allows her to keep feeding her kids.”

The Transition Child Benefit provides money to 16,000 families with 32,000 children in Ontario who don’t receive the Ontario Child Benefit, mostly because of their immigration status or because they didn’t file their taxes in the previous year. Thirty-five per cent of families who rely on the Transition Child Benefit are refugee claimants, according to the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC). 

The City of Toronto had been preparing for “ripple effects,” most notably the possibility that families could become homeless. More than 8,500 children in the city are part of a family that gets the Transition Child Benefit and Ontario Works, the province’s income assistance program for people who are out of work.

The PCs are also backtracking other controversial cuts to social assistance programs and children’s aid societies. 

 Earlier: Ontario marks Premier Doug Ford’s first year in office. Story continues after video.

 

The government had said it would change the amount of money people on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program can keep if they work part-time. 

Changes to the Transition Child Benefit, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program “are not going forward as previously announced,” Christine Wood, spokesperson for Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith, told HuffPost by email. 

“After careful consideration, these programs will continue in their current form to all recipients in accordance with existing policies,” Wood said in a statement. 

“We are focusing on the broader plan to improve social assistance, and prioritizing programs and supports that encourage employment for those who are able.”

$1 billion total cut to children, community and social services

In the budget tabled by Premier Doug Ford’s government in April, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services is to be cut by $300 million this year, $200 million next year and $500 million the year after, for a total cut of $1 billion by 2021/22.

Children’s aid societies, the agencies that investigate claims of child abuse and place children in foster homes, were expecting a cut of $28 million.

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press
Former finance minister Vic Fedeli presents the 2019 budget as Premier Doug Ford looks on at the legislature in Toronto on April 11, 2019.

Instead, the government says it will maintain last year’s funding. 

“We are currently reviewing the child welfare system, with a focus on how our government can provide high quality, culturally appropriate, sustainable and family-centred care,” Hannah Anderson, spokesperson for Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues Jill Dunlop, told HuffPost by email.

“While we conduct this review, we have decided to maintain the same funding model as previous years, ensuring predictable funding to the Children’s Aid Societies.”

Situation won’t change for some children’s aid societies

The news won’t alleviate high-profile problems at some Ontario foster agencies. 

Agencies that are in the middle of transferring cases to Indigenous-led agencies are under a “transitional” funding model, which won’t change.

Transitional funding was one of the problems listed by the former executive director of a society in Brantford, Ont. in previous interviews with HuffPost. 

Brant Family and Children’s Services (Brant FACS) laid off 26 staff members in April and another 11 workers were laid off or voluntarily left their jobs in September.

The volunteer board resigned en masse to protest the funding situation in July. 

“The primary responsibility of Brant FACS is to protect children in the community,” board president Paul Whittam said in a press release at the time. 

“It is no longer possible to fulfill our mandate.”

The agency, which is required to pay into education savings accounts for the children in its care, is $865,000 behind because it’s used the money to cover operating expenses.

OntarioLegislature/YouTube
NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky speaks in the Ontario legislature on May 16, 2019.

Ontario’s opposition politicians said that the slew of cuts should never have been announced in the first place. 

“These cuts were cruel, and they have caused profound anxiety for families already in crisis,” Lisa Gretzky, the NDP critic for community and social services, said in a statement. 

“People deserve better than a government that cuts first and thinks later.”

Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said this government has a “natural impulse” to take support away from people with the fewest resources. 

“That they were even considering withdrawing funds that feed 32,000 children who live in poverty in this province is very troubling,” he said in a statement.

“So while I am relieved the Transition Child Benefit remains in place, I will not give praise for reversing decisions that hurt the most vulnerable.”