Do government-assisted refugees receive more money for food than Canadians on welfare?

Federal and provincial officials debunk a widely circulated post on social media claiming Syrian refugees received more money for food than Canadians on welfare.

Federal, provincial officials debunk claim circulating on social media

Immigration Minister John McCallum, right, speaks with a Syrian family inside their tent, during his visit to a refugee camp in the southern town of Ghaziyeh, near the port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015. Federal and provincial officials in Canada are debunking claims about funding of government-assisted Syrian refugees. (Bilal Hussein/Associated Press)

A widely circulated post on social media alleging Syrian refugees receive more money for food than Canadians on welfare is not true, say federal and provincial officials who also debunk other widely circulated claims.

The Facebook post, which also appears on Instagram, began circulating on Dec.18, and government officials say it is the latest in a series of false claims on social media.

The federal Liberals set themselves a deadline to resettle 10,000 refugees by Dec. 31. That date has passed and they're still working on it: the latest data on the Immigration Department's website says 6,720 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since Nov. 4. Of those, 2,586 are on government assistance.

They're still aiming to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by March 1.

The post claims government-assisted refugees from Syria receive $61 a day for food compared to welfare recipients in B.C. who are said to receive $3 a day.

"A Canadian welfare recipient [in B.C. for example] receives only $3 per day for food while our government will spend $15 per refugee for breakfast, $16 for lunch and $30 for dinner per refugee," the post says.

"Funny how we are willing to spend more money to feed people instead of helping our own first."

Federal and provincial officials told CBC News that the figures are simply "not correct," and federal monthly support for Syrian refugees is based on provincial and territorial welfare rates.

Claims circulating on social media 'not correct'

The post appears to back its claim by linking to separate media reports, but takes the figures included in the reports out of context.

One report cites a government call for tender that would reimburse hotels near the Toronto and Montreal airports for providing Syrian refugees for up to three meals a day. 

B.C.'s Ministry of Social Development said "there is some confusion that funding given to hotels that temporarily house refugees in rooms without kitchenettes are 'meal allowance rates.'"

"This is not correct."

Government-assisted refugees arriving in Canada are given temporary accommodations until they move to new homes in one of some 85 communities across the country.

"In fact," said Sonia Lesage of the Department of Immigration, "the food allowance for government-assisted refugees during short-term, temporary stays in hotels is $10 per day per adult and a flat fee of $50 per minor [no matter length of stay]."

Refugee support on par with welfare assistance

Once permanent housing has been found, the federal government provides Syrian refugees with income support for up to one year or until the refugees can support themselves — whichever comes first.

Refugees receive up to a maximum of $25,000 per family, which includes "a onetime startup payment to assist the refugees in establishing a household in Canada, as well as monthly income support to help them get through their first year in the country," said Nancy Chan, a communications adviser in the Immigration Department.

"In addition to initial allowances issued while in temporary accommodation, government-assisted refugees receive monthly income support which includes a monthly food and incidental allowance that varies by family composition," said Nancy Caron, a third federal immigration official, in an email to CBC News.

"For Vancouver, this amount for a single person is $235 per month."

That's the same amount of money a welfare recipient living in B.C. would receive in support allowance, which includes money for food.

An adult on welfare, according to B.C.'s Ministry of Social Development, would receive $610 per month in income assistance — $375 for shelter and $235 for a support allowance that includes food.

"Government-assisted refugees...," said the B.C. ministry in an email to CBC News, "do not receive more monthly support than people on income assistance."

Additional financial support is available for Canadian families and persons with disabilities who are on welfare, said the ministry.

The Facebook post also cites a media report about NDP MP Jenny Kwan's efforts to urge the B.C. government to increase welfare assistance.

While it is fair to debate whether provincial governments should increase their standard rates for welfare, it is false to say Syrian refugees receive more financial support for food than Canadians on welfare.

Ottawa debunks other false claims

Another post shared online as recently as November claimed that Syrian refugees are receiving more in monthly financial assistance than Canadian pensioners.

The claim was circulated so widely that the federal Immigration Department debunked the claim.

"No. Refugees do not get more financial help from the federal government than Canadian pensioners do," said the website.

Privately sponsored refugees don't receive financial assistance from the government, as they are supported by individual Canadians or groups who have agreed to care for them.

"Normally, a private sponsor supports a refugee for 12 months, starting from the refugee's arrival in Canada or until the refugee becomes self-sufficient, whichever comes first," said a notice on the website.