04/15/2015 08:04 EDT | Updated 06/15/2015 05:59 EDT

How My Family of 7 Would Fare if We Lived Below the Poverty Line

I took a good look at what poverty is like in Canada. Canada doesn't "do" food stamps. So, last fall, I decided I would find out the numbers that would be representative of poverty on this side of the border. I feel ill.

This morning I went to Columbian Gardens in East Oakland to see an Alameda County Community Food Bank agency distribution. The Food Bank sends a truck each week with tons of fresh prouduce -- whatever's available -- and volunteers break down boxes into smaller sizes for the families. The lines are orderly -- and long -- and are made up mostly of mothers with children too young for school, and grandparents.Candy and Guadalupe came with their mom, Mariela, who says that in this economy her husband can't find enough work in construction or gardening to make ends meet. He takes odd jobs, and she stays at home with the children, though she has worked in the past. Candy and Guadalupe have an older brother, who is seven, and Mariela said they all enjoy the fresh food they get from the Food Bank. And she enjoys being able to feed them something healthy.

So, Ms. Paltrow is going to do the SNAP challenge for a whole week. Forgive me while I'm underwhelmed, given that seven days hardly seems like a true challenge. Bif Naked, for example, did a whole month last fall.

But, I digress. Given the reality that is poverty, anyone popular in the media shining a light on to it is a good thing, even if it is only for a week.

I took a good look at what poverty is like in Canada. Canada doesn't "do" food stamps. So, last fall, I decided I would find out the numbers that would be representative of poverty on this side of the border.

Here's what I found out.

For a family of seven, two adults and five children, we would receive $820 for housing. This is important, because by checking available rentals, I took four places, and mine, and came up with an average of $1,350 a month for rent. Then, in addition to the "housing allowance," there is another $490 for "living allowance." Do the math, folks. Even combining the housing allowance and living allowance, you're short on your rent. Period. So, already screwed.

But, for the sake of the post, let's say you're lucky enough to get the cheapest place listed, at $1,100 a month. Quick math shows that leaves you with $210.

Now, that's not for the entire month, thankfully.

Just for 20 days or so.

Canada offers something called, "Child Tax Benefit." It's paid out on the 20th of every month, as long as you file your taxes every year. Using the numbers from assistance as being the sole source of income, and the Universal Child Care Benefit, at $200 a month for two children under seven, it appears that our CTB for the month would be $1,451.16 for a family our size.

As long as you could survive, as a family of seven, until the 20th of the month on $210, you'd be able to eat again. But, would you?

Lets look at this a bit deeper.

After rent, you have $210. Let's assume that all goes to food. But you're expected to do a job search while on assistance. Makes sense. We have Internet at home, and a computer, so we're lucky in that. Otherwise, it's about a half hour walk to the local library, and other job finding assistance. Easy, right? Unless it's in the winter. But, yes, doable on foot.

Here's the kicker: most jobs are a half hour drive away, in the "big" city. So, the chances of getting a job interview in walking distance? Slim to none. Or one of the kids needs to go to the doctor? Chances are, you're going to need to put some gas in your vehicle at some point, even if you do your best to walk every where you can. (Although, if you live in the city, you can get a bus pass for free in my province.) So, let's assume that you're going to need to put $30 in your vehicle for gas. (To give you an idea, a full tank runs us about $100, so $30 is really, REALLY diddly squat here.)

So now you're down to $180. For seven people. For 20 days.

I have two children in diapers. A big box of diapers, each? Looking at about $35-$40. Each. So. $70- $80. Plus tax, but we'll stick with the $70. Now you're down to $110. Do the math folks. $110/20=5.50. $5.50 a day, for SEVEN people to survive on. That's $0.79 per person. Any wonder why food banks are so desperate for donations, year round?

Well, you might say, there's $1,451.16 on the 20th! Make that last! Oh, and I forgot: if you have a child under seven years old, you receive $100 a month, per child for Universal Child Care Benefit. So, that adds another $200 in my budget, bringing the total on the 20th (yes, paid the same day) up to $1,651.16 (although, I'll be honest here, folks: because that $200 is taxable income, I'm pretty sure you'd lose some, if not "all" of it from your original $490, but I'm going to ignore that reality for now).

Let's do some more math.

A family our size isn't going to fit in an apartment. Even if we tried, nobody's going to rent an apartment to a family our size. So, you need to pay your utilities. In the winter, my gas bill (heat) averaged about $300 a month. Older house, leaky windows, lack of insulation. (And yes, we covered the windows in plastic.) During the summer, looking about $40, fall, about $70. So, let's average that out. Lets say Nov-March is $300. April to August, $40, Sept and Oct, $70. That gives you an average of $153 a month in gas. Power is cheap in comparison, about $60 a month. Phone? A quick check for the most basic of packages, a basic, no frills home phone, before any taxes or service fees, the cheapest I see is $25 a month. If you add Internet on there (pretty impossible to find a job without online access, and the half hour to and from the library, only during their open hours, can seriously hamper your job search, not to mention stuff like the kids homework, etc), and it's another $30 for their most basic of packages. Add taxes, etc in on there, and you're probably looking at about $60 a month.

So, for basic utilities, there's an average of $153 for gas, $60 for power, $60 for phone and Internet. By the way, Canada has extremely HIGH cell phone fees, so saving money by going to a cell phone? Not likely to happen here.

That's $273 just for utilities for the month.

Let's not forget car insurance. And rental insurance. Where we live, it's a condition of your lease here to have renter's insurance. Wolf is a great driver, clean record, our vehicle is not a super luxury vehicle, etc. and our insurance? Just a tick under $200 a month. Now we're up to $473 a month for utilities and insurance.

Now, that leaves you with $1142.16 Oh, but wait!

Do you need more gas for your vehicle? Do the kids need clothes or shoes? Seasons change, kids grow.

If you put $100 in your vehicle for gas (remember, trying to make things last until the 20th of the next month), now its $1042.16.

Needing clothes? Shoes? Well, there's seven people in the house. Even going with consignment, Goodwill, and Salvation Army, let's be really, REALLY conservative and say a total of $100.

Now, you're down to $942.16.

Babies need diapers again. Stocking up, and buying two boxes each, that's $140.

$802.16 now.

Oh, but we forgot! How much do you spend on toilet paper, cleansers, laundry detergent, dish soap, etc? All that stuff you buy at the grocery store, that you can't eat? Now, I make my own laundry detergent, but last time I checked, a jug of the cheap laundry detergent was about $6. Then there's toothpaste, soap, shampoo, feminine hygiene products -- I'm going to "guess" and say that non-edible grocery store purchases, about $50 a month.


For 30 days. For seven people. A bit more math, now. Works out to $3.58 per day, per person. Add back in the $0.79 from the first 20 days, and you get a whopping $4.37 And that's assuming that you don't lose any of the $200, and that you can make the meagre budget I cited work for you, and there are no extra trips needing more gas in the vehicle, and that you can stick to $100 for a clothing allowance. If you have a child with a birthday that month, and want to spend anything on them, your whole budget can be shot to heck. Or someone's sick, and you need any sort of fever reducing or pain meds. $8 for a bottle of kid pain reliever, and someone may be going hungry that day. Or diapers cost you more than $35 a box.

That's the reality of poverty in my province.

And it terrifies me for those stuck in that situation.

$4.37 per person, per day. Assuming nothing goes wrong, and you can manage on the numbers I gave. If your rent is more, if your utilities are higher, if you lose part or all of the Universal Child Care Benefit ($200).

If you lose all $200, that would give you a total of: $552.16 for 30 days. Which equals $18.41. Which breaks down to $2.63 per person. Giving you a whopping total of $3.42 a day, per person, once you add in the $0.79 a day.

I feel ill.

Here are the links I used to calculate the amounts:

Assistance table for British Columbia

Calculation for Child Tax Benefit - Calculation for Child Tax Benefit, using a) British Columbia b) married c) the amount from the table from above link, and d) Each child under the age of seven receives $100 per month, taxable income for "Universal Child Care" allowance.

You'll note that I didn't include any debt payments in my budget. I figure, if you're on assistance, repaying debt simply isn't a consideration. You CAN'T AFFORD IT. Regardless of what your life may have been before needing assistance, if you're on it, you need every penny you can get to survive. God help you, if, like us, you have a vehicle payment, because you're going to lose the vehicle, and then how will you find a job?!

Also, obviously my family is larger than the average, but since the funds were based on number of children/family members, I figured it was still a fairly accurate representation of what poverty looks like in my province.


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