Mayor John Tory commits to fully funding new anti-poverty plan

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Mayor John Tory is committed to fully funding a renewed plan to tackle poverty in 2020, which includes expanding library hours, cutting the wait-list for recreation programs and other measures, he said Thursday.

“Poverty is not a problem that arose overnight and it is not one that will be solved overnight. Certainly not by one government alone,” Tory told reporters ahead of a meeting of his executive committee that approved the four-year poverty reduction plan. “I am committed to make sure that we fund the 2020 work plan.”

That plan, which now goes to council for final approval, includes some 20 actions that require new spending to implement, a staff report says.

Support from Tory sets the plan up for budget approval early next year. Council would have to agree to the funding, the amount of which has yet to be detailed publicly.

Those items up for approval include Toronto Public Library’s plan to significantly increase open hours at branches across the city, sustain funding to student nutrition programs and reduce the waiting list for city-run recreation programs in low-income areas.

The executive committee heard Thursday from several members of the public who urged council to fast-track the implementation of the discounted fare pass for the TTC, known as the Fair Pass, which has fallen behind schedule.

The third phase — which proposes to extend the discounts to all those whose incomes fall below a threshold that is 15 per cent above the federal government’s low-income measure — was originally scheduled to roll out in 2020, but is now scheduled for 2021.

City staff told the Star on Thursday that they are working on creating a low-barrier application process which includes automatic income verification using Canada Revenue Agency records.

“Work to design this system, which will learn from the previous two phases, including Phase 2 which just begun, has already commenced and will ramp up in 2020,” city spokesperson Natasha Hinds Fitzsimmins said.

A city staff report also says that implementing the third and final phase also means identifying “sustainable funding sources.”

The Fair Pass program was estimated to cost $48.2 million annually when fully implemented, Hinds Fitzsimmins said.

A third-party evaluation of the Fair Pass program following rollout of the first phase — which saw discounts offered to people who qualify for Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program — suggests the discounts have led to significant increases in transit usage while increasing accessibility to the TTC for lower-income residents.

The second phase extended benefits to those receiving child-care subsidies through the city, but has not yet been offered to those with housing supports, as originally planned.

Committee members agreed that poverty reduction is not a challenge that can be solved by the city alone.

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“This can only be fully successful if you have all levels of government at the table,” said Coun. James Pasternak (Ward 6 York Centre).

Council meets starting Nov. 26.

Jennifer Pagliaro

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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