Did you know that the “provincial purse has begun to pick up $1.5 billion per year of Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments in your region? What happens now to the pot of money the regions used for these payments?”

Here are the important answers for Canadians in the following dialogue of Brice Balmer, Director of Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC), during the Religious Leaders Forum of November 18, 2010:

by Rev. Brice Balmer

The municipal elections are over; it is now time to contact your municipal/regional council members and ask that they begin a local poverty reduction strategy with the Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) monies being up-loaded to the province.  Total monies provincially will be approximately $1.5 billion per year when the process is finished in 2018.

Without local action, these monies may go for other municipal programs. Environment, culture, roads, police, transit, planning, and public health are all important, but this is money to assist people with low incomes.

While Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC) advocates for a more intense poverty elimination strategy at the provincial level, local interfaith and social justice groups can begin pressing for municipal poverty reduction.

ISARC maintains that these monies should be used to eliminate poverty locally by building affordable and supportive housing, increasing employment initiatives, assisting people of low incomes with transportation, helping high school youth with course fees, investing in child care spaces, providing subsidies for recreation programs, and adding community centre programs in neighborhoods where many families live in poverty.

Research has shown that affordable housing, supports for people seeking good jobs, transportation, education, child care, recreation, and networking with other people break the cycle of poverty for families and individuals. Instead of struggling with depression and isolation, people gain a sense of hope in the midst of safety.

Poverty elimination is often side-tracked or dismissed because dollars are needed for other municipal services. These are “found dollars” which have been allocated for people on social assistance should continue to reduce poverty locally. The sums are not insignificant.  In Waterloo Region, the annual amount is $10 – 12 million per year increasing to approximately $20 million yearly when the process is completed in 2015.

How much is being up-loaded in your municipality? Ask your municipal social services commissioner or your local elected councillor! If there is no transparency, this money will disappear into the budget.

How might poverty be reduced in your area?  What was recommended in the local social audit?  Organize again! This can bring quick results in 2011.

Municipal politicians will begin their new terms at the beginning of December; staff are working on their budgets NOW; and final approvals will be in March 2011. There is no time to waste!  What is happening locally?

MCC contributes to this dialogue…

Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC’s) Greg deGroot-Maggetti is also an ISARC Steering Committee member and a co-chair of the 25 in 5 group.  He writes a blog and has contributed to this issue as well.  Click here to read his comments.

On Talking to Politicians:
Ever tried gathering a group and approaching a politician?

ISARC gathered people in 26 regions of the province to invite poor people to speak out about the lived experience of grinding poverty day after day.  The publication of the book  Persistent Poverty brings these courageous stories to the public.

ISARC wants to have those voices heard in the ranks of the politicians who contribute to the party caucus formulating party policy. What better follow-up could we have then to call on the politicians in the constituency offices or to invite them to visit your operations in his or her riding and present them with both the book and your poignant recollections of the audit events! Never done this before?

ISARC found its material on the how-to of the audit very well received. Now to help the local audit committees, ISARC has prepared a downloadable protocol for visiting with municipal, provincial or federal politicians. Though prepared with a view to presenting our book, with minimal adaptation, the protocol could be used for any purpose.

Be sure to add the questions around the fate of the funds once used for OW (Ontario Works) and  ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program). Insist that these funds be used for poverty reduction now, not diverted to infra-structure or pet projects.

If you were a convenor for 2010 Audit and have not been in touch regarding free books (Persistent Poverty) for your group and the local politicians, be in touch quickly please.  You can reach us at info@isarc.ca

Contact Info:
Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition
P.O. Box 25067 – SDM
Kitchener, ON N2A 4A5
(519) 884-0710 x 3927

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