By Cameron Dearlove
In a black and white world spending is simply a cost, and not spending is simply a saving. In our real and complex world, this is a simplistic and naïve way to look at public policy.
Say, for example, all funding for roads and public transit was cut overnight. At first glance it would appear that we saved an incredible amount of taxpayer money. Soon, we would see government revenue quickly dwindle as people wouldn’t be able to get to work, goods would stop moving, and the economy would come to a halt. In the real world, such a drastic cut wouldn’t happen because the cause and effect of infrastructure cuts are obvious and understood.
Unfortunately, when it comes to social services planning, cause and effect are less obvious and less often given full consideration.
So it is with the loss of the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB). The benefit provides up to $799 for a single person and up to $1,500 for a family for a variety of housing-related expenses, such as paying first and last month’s rent, furniture, or catching up on utility bills. It can be accessed every two years and is delivered through the social assistance system.
The provincial Liberals chopped this benefit in the recent budget and starting next year are reallocating it into local housing and homelessness programs — with a 50 per cent cut. They also chopped the discretionary benefits program, which helped with things such as dental and vision care. The discretionary benefit program ended July 1, but realizing its importance, our regional government stepped in to continue at full funding until Jan. 1, 2013. The region will be hard pressed to make up for the shortfall being left by the provincial cuts to both benefits beyond the end of the year.
In a black and white world, it would seem that by making these cuts the provincial government saved us money. Instead, costs are being downloaded onto municipalities and property tax payers. Without these benefits, people who are in vulnerable situations are more likely to fall into cracks in our system — which ends up costing us more in the end.
Welfare rates in Ontario are unhealthily low, to the point where simply maintaining a household is a struggle. Paying first and last month’s rent plus moving costs, or purchasing necessary furniture such as a crib or bed for a child, becomes nearly impossible without the CSUMB.
“The loss of CSUMB will have a number of negative impacts on people who are among the most vulnerable in this province.
Without this benefit, more people will be at risk of being homeless,” said Mary MacKeigan of Opportunities Waterloo Region, an organization that seeks solutions to reduce and prevent poverty in our community. “The current benefits provide people with the direct assistance they need to retain their housing and prevent homelessness. This will be lost when CSUMB ends in January 2013.”
What little is saved in these cuts will end up as a greater economic cost, through increased use of shelters, increased use of emergency rooms, and long-term health costs that come with homelessness and living at risk of homelessness. Then there are the social costs — the additional suffering, pain and trauma people may have to go through when the system squeezes them out.
Kitchener Centre Liberal MPP John Milloy is the minister responsible for community and social services, which is moving forward with these cuts, even though the social assistance review has yet to make its final recommendations, due this fall.
The world isn’t black and white and neither are people’s lives. Pretending they are is no way to plan when it comes to real people and real lives.
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Guest columnist Cameron Dearlove is a community developer and former provincial NDP candidate. You can follow him on Twitter at @camdearlove.