03/25/2020 20:03 EDT | Updated 03/26/2020 15:10 EDT

Ontario Boosts Payouts To Parents, Doubles Low-Income Seniors Benefit

The province released an economic and fiscal update instead of a full 2020 budget due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Ontario is introducing a one-time $200 or $250 per child payment to help parents with extra costs associated with school and daycare closures, on top of an additional $200-million investment into social-services relief during the COVID-19 pandemic

The province will open an online application portal by April 6, and payments to parents will begin “shortly thereafter,” a government official said at a background briefing. 

The $200 benefit is open for parents of children under the age of 12 in either public or private school. For parents of a child with a disability, the benefit is $250. The quickest option will be to receive an e-transfer. 

The child-care benefit will cost the government about $337 million, the official said. 

“I know that this does not solve all the problems, but it will provide parents with some relief,” Ontario Minister of Finance Rod Phillips said at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.

Andrew Francis Wallace via Getty Images
Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips during question period at the Ontario legislature. Phillips introduced an economic and fiscal update Wednesday in lieu of a budget given concerns over COVID-19's economic impact. 

The province has also announced it will exempt certain child-care centres from the order to close, so that health-care and other front-line workers can access child-care services.

An estimated 56,000 front-line workers will benefit from this, and the province has set aside an estimated $3 million per day, the government official said. 

The new spending was announced as part of the province’s 2020 economic and fiscal update, instead of the originally intended budget as the current crisis continues to have devastating economic impacts and create fiscal uncertainty.

Expanded benefits for low-income seniors

The province will also double its guaranteed benefits for low-income seniors, at a total cost of $75 million. 

The increase to the Guaranteed Annual Income System will be a temporary, six-month measure to ensure seniors can cover essential expenses during the COVID-19 crisis, the government said. 

The non-taxable benefit, available to low-income individuals 65 and older, currently ranges from $2.50 to $83 a month, the maximum being for a senior with no private income. 

Supporting our most vulnerable communities is at the heart of so much of what we must do in this difficult time.Finance Minister Rod Phillips

Under the new changes, the maximum payment will increase to $166 per month for individuals and $332 per month for couples. 

Phillips said that 194,000 seniors would benefit from the expanded financial support.

“Supporting our most vulnerable communities is at the heart of so much of what we must do in this difficult time,” he said.

The province said it is also working with local businesses, charities and existing health services to co-ordinate subsidized deliveries of meals, medication and other essentials for seniors in need. It has set aside $5 million to subsidize these costs, Phillips said.

Other relief measures 

Earlier this week, the province announced a $200-million investment in social services to support shelters, food banks, emergency services, charities and non-profit organizations “to deliver their critical services, hire additional staff, and find ways to promote social distancing and self-isolation to keep clients safe and healthy.”

The province is also expanding its emergency assistance program, administered through Ontario Works, to cover essential expenses for people who do not qualify for federal emergency support programs. 

Discretionary benefits will also be available to existing social assistance recipients.

The requirement for social assistance clients to provide written documentation has also been waived. Payments through Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program will continue based on previous levels of income support. 

The government will also provide $26 million to Indigenous peoples and communities. This will include emergency assistance for Indigenous people in urban areas, the cost for health-care professionals and supplies to be sent to remote First Nations and funding for other emergency planning needs in First Nations communities.

People need help now.Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader

The opposition New Democrats, Liberals, Green and Independent MPPs said they would support the spending plan, but had reservations.

“People have seen their incomes drastically cut … and that didn’t just start today,” Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said at Queen’s Park, in response to the update. 

“All of us are worried about the most vulnerable among us during this pandemic. People need help. People need help now. They need the province of Ontario to step up and help them. This package does not do that. It will not help anyone sleep tonight.”

She added now is not the time for “half-measures” and said people can’t wait until the middle or end of April to see how much money they have. 

The provincial Conservatives previously planned to cut over $1 billion from social services, including child welfare, though they later reversed course on the $28-million cut to children’s aid societies and the Transition Child Benefit, among others.

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