Province to cut welfare increases in half, turf basic income pilot project ahead of welfare reform

Province to cut welfare increases in half, turf basic income pilot project ahead of welfare reform

The government is cutting a scheduled 3-per-cent welfare increase in half and killing the province's basic income pilot project ahead of major welfare reforms.

Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said Tuesday social assistance rates will rise 1.5 per cent this fall, at least until the Progressive Conservative government has completed a 100-day overhaul of the social assistance program. The Doug Ford administration will also scrap a three-year experiment now playing out in three communities to test out whether no-strings-attached payments boost quality-of-life indicators for Ontarians in dire financial straits, MacLeod said.

The PCs had said during the campaign they would maintain the pilot program, underway in the areas of Hamilton, Thunder Bay, and Lindsay.

Ontario Works, intended for people who are not employed but could be, has about 247,000 recipients on its rolls, according to the Ministry of Community and Social Services. The Ontario Disability Support Program, with a range of criteria that determine payments for people whose disabilities prevent them from working, supports about 372,000 recipients.

A single adult can receive up to $721 a month for shelter and "basic needs" from Ontario Works. A couple with two children is allowed as much as $1,230. The disability support program pays up to $1,151 monthly.

MacLeod said the upcoming reforms to the two programs are "about restoring dignity to Ontarians."

"It’s about lifting people up, offering people a way out, and helping people get their lives back on track," she said, calling Liberal social assistance plans "a mess" in a "patchwork system" that was indifferent to results.

"My motivation is through compassion. But let me be clear, the best social program is a job – for those who can get one," MacLeod said in response to a QP Briefing question on whether the government would consider a return to Mike Harris-era "workfare" programs.

Under the last Tory premier, able-bodied welfare recipients were required to take part in training or job placements through the programs.

The 3-per-cent bump-up would have cost the province about $300 million, according to the previous Liberal government's 2018 budget. MacLeod did not confirm whether the reduction would save $150 million in social assistance costs.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the drop in welfare rates "appalling," "disgusting" and an "attack on low-income people."

"[I]t pushes those already at a disadvantage even deeper into poverty," she said in a release. "And cancelling the unfinished and promising basic income pilot project is a waste and a shame."

Horwath pledged to "keep fighting" for the government to follow Ontario's income security road map, a report released in November by three working groups on reforming social assistance.

"Over the past 15 years, the number of Ontarians forced to go on social assistance has climbed by 55 per cent," MacLeod's ministry said in a statement.

Christopher Reynolds

QP BRIEFING Reporter

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