More than 600 families in Waterloo region affected by child benefit cut
'We will have hungry and unhealthy people and children,' says multicultural centre's Lucia Harrison
More than 600 families in Waterloo region will no longer receive money each month to help cover costs as the Ontario government plans to eliminate the Transition Child Benefit.
The benefit is given to families on welfare who are not eligible for other child benefits. The provincial government said the program will end as of November 2019.
Its elimination affects primarily refugee claimants and those who are in the process of applying or ineligible for the Canada child benefit. This can include families with newborns, those facing a recent job loss, or those in a dispute with Canada Revenue Agency over finances related to child custody.
Refugee claimants are not eligible to receive other types of child benefit payments. Other programs require recipients to have regularized immigration status, either as a permanent resident or citizen of Canada.
Waterloo region is home to about 640 families who receive the transition child benefit, says Sheri Phillips, the region's director of employment and income support.
In terms of alternative funding to similarly support refugees in the community, "at this point I don't see anything that replaces it," Phillips said.
Covering basic needs
The transition child benefit gives families up to $230 per child per month. It is designed to supplement Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), recognizing this assistance doesn't cover children's basic needs, said Shelley Campagnola, the executive director of the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support.
Her organization works with nearly 40 refugee claimant families who currently rely on this funding. She anticipates that come November, this number will stay relatively the same as new families needing support arrive.
"We're going to see a significant number of families being turned out of their present living situation," she said.
"A single mom say, with a couple of children ... without that transition child benefit would only get a little over a $1,000 a month to be paying rent and all the other basic need items."
Stacey Danckert, the financial critic for the Green Party of Ontario who ran for the party in Kitchener in the last provincial election, agrees with Campagnola's assessment.
"We haven't increased our funding support even with the rate of inflation," she said in regards to welfare funding.
Given current rental rates in the region, Danckert believes OW and ODSP "wouldn't even be enough to provide for rent for many of those families."
She expects the loss of this funding will place an additional strain on social services such as emergency housing and local food banks.
'Hungry and unhealthy people'
Lucia Harrison, CEO of the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre, says those families left without child benefits "will have very little money to put toward food or any other expenses."
Campagnola says in her experience, refugee claimants often take up to a year to get a work permit and find a job. The application process for permanent resident status can take up to four years. Without the transition child benefit, these families cannot receive any additional financial support in the meantime.
The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said in a written statement that winding down the benefit is part of an overhaul of the social assistance system.
Kitchener South-Hespeler MPP Amy Fee and Cambridge MPP Belinda Karahalios, who are both parliamentary assistants to the minister, provided CBC Kitchener-Waterloo with a written statement.
"We are moving ahead with reforms that will empower the province's most vulnerable to break free from the cycle of poverty by replacing parts of the system that provide complicated and unequal support to those in need," it said.
The statement highlighted the nearly $1.2 billion that was invested into the Ontario child benefit this year, but made no mention of any substitutes for families who do not qualify for this funding.
Finding the funds
Danckert believes the Ontario government does have the capacity to continue the program.
"For the Ontario government to support the $230 a month, it's really not very much," she said, citing the province's recent costly decision to break its contract with the Beer Store.
"While I think that cutting the deficit is a really important thing for us to pursue, it's also really essential that we think about it in a long-term sense, and make sure we're making good decisions for the majority of Ontarians."