Province cuts funding to centre for low-income Winnipeggers months after 3-year agreement approved

The Centre Flavie-Laurent had its funding clawed back by the province a few months after a new agreement was approved.

Centre Flavie-Laurent one of several programs facing Department of Families cut

The Centre Flavie-Laurent had its funding clawed back by the province a few months after a new agreement was approved. (CBC News)

A resource centre for low-income people and refugees in Winnipeg has had its funding clawed back by the province a few months after a new agreement was approved.

The centre is one of several organizations to see funding from the Department of Families cut, amid major spending reductions across the provincial government.

The Centre Flavie-Laurent in St. Boniface helps people in need with housewares, furniture, clothing and other basic necessities for life. The Provencher Boulevard facility also has office, kitchen and laundry facilities for clients.

The centre's service purchase agreement with the Department of Families was reduced from around $137,000 to $86,700 for this year, a cut of nearly 37 per cent. The centre's total budget this year was $440,000.

"We were very disappointed, because it is a very important reduction when we're talking about 37 per cent. We had an agreement which was signed, a three-year agreement. So we thought that that agreement would be respected," said board president Gisele Barnabe.

Letter received in July, cuts retroactive to April

The centre received a letter in July from Catherine Gates, executive director of the Employment and Income Assistance program. It informed them that the funding cut was retroactive to April, when the agreement was first signed.

"That's what we found a little difficult getting that announcement in mid-July. Because our budget had been approved," said Barnabe.

The centre recently bought a truck to pick up and deliver donations. Now, they have to reconsider whether they can afford to keep it.

The provincial government is reviewing all funding agreements and programs, and "funding for critical core benefits and services is being prioritized to ensure we continue to provide essential income supports for low-income Manitobans," a spokesperson for the province said in a statement.

"Manitoba continues to face significant fiscal challenges while having to address rising costs in a number of benefits and services, including provision of social assistance."

Barnabe said she has a meeting with Gates planned for Thursday. She hopes to convince the department to reverse the funding cut, at least partially. She thinks perhaps the province was unaware of the centre's plans in increase their services, such as purchasing the truck.

The centre, which relies heavily on volunteers to do its work, will also look at other sources of funding, appealing to donors, as well as revising their budget to reduce expenses, Barnabe said.

Province reining in deficit

The cuts come as the provincial government is trying to reduce the budget deficit. Finance Minister Cameron Friesen tabled a budget in April forecasting a $840-million deficit for the 2017-18 fiscal year, with the expectation of a total provincial debt of $23.1 billion by the end of March 2018.

The Department of Families also cut $38,000 for a program at Mount Carmel Clinic on Main Street that provided no-cost chiropractic services to people in the area. People will still have access to seven chiropractic visits per year through Manitoba Health, and when EIA participants require further services, those costs can be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the provincial government spokesperson said.

The Department of Families also reduced funding to the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic by $48,900, although the organization continues to receive $350,000 in annual funding from the Manitoba government, the spokesperson said.

Other agencies working with low-income communities have seen cuts to provincial funding recently. The province discontinued its $510,000 Community Housing Improvement Initiative, which funded small grants to homeowners or landlords to fix up houses through 20 different community renewal corporations.

Earlier this year, the Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews Community Association and the Dufferin Residents' Association of Winnipeg were forced to lay off staff over uncertainty about whether the province would commit to long-term funding agreements.

With files from Susan Magas