Raise Ontario Works rates, Ajax calls

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Published March 27, 2024 at 3:54 pm

Ajax town hall

Ajax has called on the province to raise the amount of money people on Ontario Works receive each month.

Town council adopted the motion, forwarded by Councillor Sterling Lee, at the March 25 meeting. It was seconded by Councillor Joanne Dies.

The motion notes that OW rates have been frozen since the current Ontario government took power in 2018. Those on OW currently receive $733 a month.

Since that time, the average rent in Ajax across all property types has risen to $2,355. While this is down year over year, it’s still 18 per cent higher than the national average. Back in 2022, Ajax was the ninth most expensive rental market in Canada.

Those on Ontario Disability (ODSP) and OW live on incomes well below the poverty line of $27,343 per year. Those on ODSP receive $15,672 a year while those on OW get only $8,796 annually. This is 57 per cent and 32 per cent of the income needed to reach the poverty line.

Of this, the motion says, “economic challenges and inflationary pressures are disproportionately impacting vulnerable residents by contributing to increasing income insecurity, housing unaffordability, homelessness and food insecurity.”

Homelessness in particular has been a significant concern in Ajax in recent years. Last summer, Mayor Shaun Collier declared an “emergency situation” after the town’s unsheltered population tripled practically overnight.

The influx at the time was largely due to new refugee claimants. However, Collier noted the support network could not support this new population swell because it was already nearly at capacity.

To address these struggles, Lee’s motion cites the Social Assistance Modernization program announced by Ontario in 2021. It notes his program was designed to reduce the administrative burden on municipalities but has failed to do so.

The SAM “resulted in unintended consequences including delays to processing applications and the elimination of essential people-centred supports, including bus fares, that is jeopardizing an individual’s ability to transition out of poverty,” the motion reads.

The motion states, “improved financial stability would result in improved social, economic and health outcomes for our community’s most vulnerable residents and increase opportunities for vulnerable residents to contribute to and invest in their local economies.”

As such, “Ajax Council calls on the provincial government to urgently increase Ontario Works rates to a livable rate and commit to indexing supports to the annual rate of inflation.”

It also calls for the OW income exception to be made to match ODSP’s. As is, ODSP recipients can earn up to $1,000 before their support is reduced, but OW recipients can only earn $200.

Ajax has also requested the province re-evaluate the effectiveness of its social assistance modernization and restore previously eliminated funding to OW.

The previous Ontario Government under Premier Kathleen Wynne took a different track to modernize social assistance. They led a basic income pilot project in 2018.

The program provided 4,000 people who earned less than in Brantford, Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay with a guaranteed income. More than 70 per cent of program participants were already employed.

They received a nearly $17,000 annual stipend from the government, though this was reduced by 50 cents on the dollar of their salary.

However, the pilot lasted only 10 months as Doug Ford Progressive Conservatives cancelled it almost as soon as they sat in Queen’s Park in 2019. The move came despite earlier promises from the PCs to maintain the project.

The project’s early end left participants and researchers dismayed and Hamilton formally denounced the move. However, despite its short life span, it showed positive results.

Sociologist Leah Hamilton and James Mulvale studied the pilot in their work The (Unrealized) Promise of Basic Income in Ontario. They found four major themes among participants including;

  1. a desire among participants to work and be financially independent
  2. traditional welfare payments are extremely low and do not cover basic necessities, while basic income is higher and does cover these necessities
  3. beyond the basic differences in benefit amount, the conditional nature of traditional welfare programs has significant repercussions for recipients, and
  4. basic income has facilitated long-term financial planning
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