In what critics are calling the “nastiest” attack on children, the Ford government is eliminating a benefit that helps families on welfare feed and clothe their kids.
The cut, buried in April’s provincial budget, will end the Transition Child Benefit which provides up to $230 per month, per child in families on welfare who are not receiving the Ontario and Canada child benefits, such as refugee claimants.
The move, scheduled to take effect Nov. 1, will impact an average of 16,000 children a month province-wide, according to the government.
“To me, this is the nastiest cut,” said Toronto Councillor Shelley Carroll, a member of the city’s economic and community development committee, responsible for the local welfare system.
It is part of an estimated $177 million in provincial budget cuts to the city that threaten child care subsidies, school nutrition programs and free dental care for low-income children, among others services.
In Toronto, the loss of the Transition Child Benefit will mostly hurt kids in families making refugee claims, said City Manager Chris Murray in a memo to councillors earlier this month.
But families on welfare who did not file a tax return or who are awaiting benefits due to the birth of a child or a recent job loss, will also lose out if the cut proceeds, he noted in the memo.
Since social assistance provides no funding for children’s basic needs, losing the benefit means families will have “no money for food, clothing and other basic necessities” for their kids, Murray warned.
“Toronto’s family shelter system may experience increased demand from families who lose the (benefit) and become unable to secure or maintain their housing,” he added.
Toronto Employment and Social Services issued just over $22 million in benefits last year that helped an average of 4,351 low-income residents a month.
Even more local children are likely at risk, as transition benefits to families living on Ontario Disability Support Program payments are administered by the province and are not counted in the city’s data, Murray said.
A spokesperson for the provincial ministry of children, community and social services said the government is axing the benefit as part of its broader overhaul of social assistance.
“We are replacing parts of the social assistance system that provide complicated and unequal support to those in need, with simpler rate structures for everyone,” said Derek Rowland.
“Currently, low income families not on social assistance do not qualify for the Transitional Child Benefit,” he said. “The government believes that all Ontarians should have equal access to children’s benefits, regardless of whether they are or are not receiving social assistance.”
Ontario is investing almost $1.2 billion dollars in the Ontario Child Benefit this year, he added. That is an increase of about $32 million, according to provincial budget estimates.
But Carroll, who represents Ward 17, Don Valley North, said the cut is “attacking the most vulnerable” children and families.
“We were given responsibility for the benefit because we are on the front line. These people are in our caseworkers’ offices and we can nimbly help until they can get into the regular benefit systems.” she said. “To take that away is really targeted and nasty.”
For Eritrean refugee claimant Samu Abdel, 37, who has three young sons, including one with spina bifida, the benefit has been critical to her ability to support her children.
“I don’t know what I would do without it,” says the single mother who fled her war-torn homeland in 2017. “I have a disabled son. I can’t work. I need this money to buy food and diapers.”
Abdel is one of several single mothers with severely disabled children living at Sojourn House, a Toronto refugee service agency that runs a homeless shelter and two-year transitional housing program.
“If they lose the Transition Child Benefit, we’re never going to be able to find (permanent) housing for them,” said executive director Debbie Hill-Corrigan.
“Many of the families in our transitional program are single mothers and they have children they have to look after. And without daycare subsidies — that are also being lost to provincial cuts — they won’t be able to work. They are not going to be able to go to school,” she said. “It is heartbreaking.”
The agency’s shelter is already having trouble meeting the need, with about 80 people on the wait list, Hill-Corrigan added.
“If families can’t leave the shelters, what will happen to all the people who keep coming?” she said.
Mayor John Tory, who has been urging the Ford government to reverse the retroactive provincial cuts, launched an online petition last week inviting residents to join the campaign to protect public health, child care, transit and more.
The Transition Child Benefit was set up in 2008 to ensure children of parents on social assistance are not left without money for food and other basic needs if they don’t qualify for the Ontario Child Benefit or are waiting for their application to be processed, says the Income Security Advocacy Centre, a legal aid centre that supports residents on social assistance.
The benefit is provided through social assistance because it is a program of “last resort,” for people with no other source of income, said clinic legal director Mary Marrone.
“If you are on social assistance and you don’t have any other income, there is nothing to cover food for your kids,” she said. “Losing the transition benefit will be devastating to them and to the health and well-being of their children.”
Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb