Province's plan to cut child benefit will hurt families, city says

The looming end of a social assistance program will leave nearly 1,000 families short and the city is warning it expects increased pressure on food banks and shelters as a result. 

Decision 'literally taking food and shelter away from children,' says Refugee 613

An increasing number of homeless Ottawa families have been housed in motel rooms because the city's shelters are full. (Laura Osman/CBC)

The looming end of a provincial social assistance program will leave nearly 1,000 families short and the city is warning it expects increased pressure on food banks and shelters as a result. 

The City of Ottawa issued a memo Tuesday about the provincial decision to end the Transition Child Benefit (TCB).

It is meant to cover people who don't qualify for other benefits and has been especially important for refugee claimants, said Refugee 613 director Louisa Taylor. 

"For many refugee claimant families, it means removing one of the only sources of income that they have," she said.

"It's quite literally taking food and shelter away from children to take this benefit away."

Refugee 613 director Louisa Taylor said the benefit is essential to the families who use it. (CBC)

Currently, the program provides a maximum of $230 per child per month.

The city estimates nearly 1,000 Ottawa families receive a combined $5.2 million from the program and cites reports that 16,000 children across the province are eligible.

In an email, a spokesperson for Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith said the government is increasing its investment in the Ontario Child Benefit by $31 million for a total of about $1.2 billion this year.

City can't cover

The city's family shelters have been filled over the past few years, with refugee claimants making up more and more of those spaces.

In the memo, the city says it can't take up the pressure if more families need support because they're not receiving the benefit. 

"Housing services is not currently positioned to provide funding to support households impacted through the loss of the TCB, which place many at imminent risk of housing instability," reads the memo. 

It also predicts increased pressure on food banks and social agencies that provide items such as school supplies and winter clothes.

Mayor Jim Watson wrote a letter to Premier Doug Ford asking him to postpone the end of the benefit, which is currently set for Nov. 1. 

Taylor said the benefit cut is going to be devastating for some families. 

"It is the safety net, under the safety net, under the safety net," she said.

"To take that away, seems to me to be ripping a child-sized hole in the safety net and saying that there are some kids in our community who don't matter as much as others." 

More pressure on shelters

Leslie Emory, executive director of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO), said she knows this is going to mean more demand for her organization's services, but she is most concerned about the refugee claimants. 

"It makes their housing situation precarious, their ability to seek employment precarious, their children's welfare precarious," she said.

Without other programs, she said these families will have to try to stretch the few dollars they have even further and more will end up in shelters.     

PC MPPs have said the government is overhauling "complicated and unequal" parts of the social assistance system.