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Benefit cuts shortsighted

The Region of Waterloo announced this week that one of the social service programs it administers  will be axed.

On Tuesday, the region announced the Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit will no longer be available through Ontario Works starting Jan. 1, 2013.

This fund was used for people on social assistance to help out with last-month’s rent, making up shortfalls in rent to avoid eviction, and helping with utility costs. Renting a home often can’t be done without a first-and-last-month payment, so this will effectively keep people who don’t have the means from getting a leg up on their housing situation.

Things like dental work for adults, baby supplies, bus tickets to come to the Ontario Works office and food hampers also could be slashed. These benefits are under review for the region’s 2013 budget process.

The province has started carrying much of the cost of social assistance payments, and regional councillors have already decided what to do with a big chunk of the money saved — it’s going to help fund light rail transit. But that decision may need to be reconsidered.

Vision, dental care and access to food and housing are not frills, and denying them to those who need them will only cost more in the long run. An untreated vision problem would make it difficult, if not impossible, for a social assistance recipient to train for a job, find employment, or even access other services they need. Untreated dental problems and poor nutrition can lead to bigger, more costly health problems down the road. People who are left homeless for want of a month’s rent are going to require more assistance, and tax dollars.

The two levels of government need to work together to find a proactive solution before the region’s most vulnerable citizens pay the price.

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