Ontario's cuts to Toronto Public Health threaten to 'devastate' school nutrition program, some warn
As Toronto fights to reverse the province's move, some point the finger at the city
Many advocates are warning that Ontario's surprise cuts to Toronto Public Health's funding threaten to destroy the city's school nutrition program, which is relied upon by at least 200,000 children, and they want to see the province reverse course.
News of the cuts hit just before the start of the Easter long weekend, and mean an immediate $86-million hole in the public health agency's budget — part of a larger move to slash $1 billion in funding over the next 10 years, Coun. Joe Cressy said Thursday afternoon.
That's left the city having to weigh just what programs it can afford to keep running and to what extent, meaning the cuts could affect everything from the nutrition programs to daycare inspections to detecting public health threats such as SARS.
The chair of Toronto's Catholic District School Board worries amid all the decision making, the school nutrition program could be hit the hardest.
Toronto Public Health puts $14 million towards nutrition programs across the city, which take the form of breakfast, snack, morning meal and lunch options, each "a reflection" of the community they serve, according to the city's website.
'A proven measure'
A 2012 evaluation of the program found 82 per cent of students surveyed said the program kept them from feeling hungry and 74 per cent said it improved their well being.
Students who ate morning meals most days out of a week achieved better results compared to those who them only one or two times a week, the report said. "Differences were remarkable in the areas of independent work," it said, a difference 70 per cent vs. 56 per cent.
"This has been a proven measure to not only make sure that kids have a healthy meal ... but it also improves learning," Cressy said.
"My concern here is simply, if we don't have the money, I'm not sure how we're going to keep running these student nutrition programs," he said, adding the city now has to triage which programs it can afford.
In a statement Thursday, the press secretary for Health Minister Christine Elliott disputed the dollar amount being attached to the cuts, saying they would "amount to one-third of a percentage point of the city's annual budget, hardly a billion dollars.
"Our government will continue to do our part as we slowly shift the cost-sharing funding model over the next three years to reflect municipalities' stronger role in the delivery of public health and we encourage the City of Toronto to do the same," spokesperson Hayley Chazan said.
A 'targeted attack'?
News of the reduced funding set off a firestorm of controversy online.
They're not 'canceling breakfasts for children'. They're reducing one envelope of funding to the city. The city can decide what to spend it on.<br><br>If the city thinks of all places it could possibly save money, breakfasts for kids is the first thing that should go, that's on them. <a href="https://t.co/93A2iWVsXn">https://t.co/93A2iWVsXn</a>—@awudrick
In some parts of the GTA the food program also gave out lunches & snacks. It made me feel so connected to those kids having been in their shoes myself once. <br>Food insecurity is a real thing for Ontario's children, some parents have to choose between shelter, food & clothes...—@CrazedIndianW
Reacting to the cuts Thursday, Mayor John Tory called the cuts a "targeted attack on the health of our entire city," saying he will be working to see it reversed.
Cressy echoed that sentiment Monday
"I think Torontonians and Ontarians are awakening to the real severity of these cuts," he said.
"There is only one course of action for the province here and that is to reverse these unnecessary cuts."
With files from Lauren Pelley