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Program reforms, universal care among County’s input on provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy

A basic living wage, reforms of provincial programs and universal pharma and dental care are among reforms the County is recommending the province consider in its Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Council Tuesday night, gave its approval to fine-tune a letter from Mayor Steve Ferguson responding to the provincial government’s call for input on the strategy, and responses to the ministry’s online survey. The letter is to be sent to Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, Provincial Minister of Children, Communitiy and Social Services.

The letter reminds Smith the County is highly attractive to affluent visitors and newcomers, but struggles with the second highest food insecurity rate in Ontario at 10 per cent of the population, and lower than provincial median household income, among other worrying statistics.

“The municipality and scores of community organizations work hard to provide food, clothing, shelter and emotional assistance to those in need but systemic changes are required to effectively reduce poverty in our province,” states Ferguson.

The County recommendations to the provincial poverty reduction strategy, were organized by what was determined as the main causes of poverty:

Income:
– Introduce a basic living wage (the minimum income necessary for workers to meet their basic needs), which would make it possible for people living in poverty to pull themselves out, be in a position to obtain and keep a full-time job where possible, reduce the stress that creates physical and mental health issues.
– Extend banked hours for Employment Insurance so seasonal workers can be paid for the entire “off season.” This ensures they can plan for the winter and increased likelihood that they will return to their same seasonal work in the spring, which benefits both the employee and employer
– Reform income security programs such as Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program
– Reverse the announced cuts to social security programs
– Ensure program encourage and support voluntary employment removing punitive claw backs on earnings

Employment
– Support initiatives to establish specialist skills training for the Ontario Workforce
– Continue rural broadband initiatives to attract and retain home-based employment and technical jobs in rural communities.

Housing
– Through the Provincial Policy Statement support land use policy that encourages and, in some cases, mandates the development of attainable/affordable housing in mixed use developments.
– Establish legislation to regulate short-term accommodation platforms to ensure local housing and rental stock is protected.

Transportation
– Continue provincial funding and grants for rural public transportation on the understanding that this service will not be revenue-neutral to a rural municipality such as Prince Edward County

Health
– Adopt universal pharma care and dental care for all
– Accelerate investments in telemedicine and e-health records to ensure that rural patients can find timely, patient-centred care with equal access to urban specialists.
– Improve access and funding for mental health and addictions support/services

Families and Caregivers
– Increase caregiver support programs for the elderly and families with special needs
– Reconsider changing the definition of disability so that it is not more restrictive and punitive to members of the society.

Food Insecurity
– Encourage the innovation and consider grant funding for new emergency food models to incorporate the whole community and therefore reduces stigma, brings neighbours together to improve the overall sense of belonging and provides nutritious and healthy food for all

Rural Poverty
– Provide Ministry funding for emergency beds for those experiencing domestic violence, especially in rural areas where there are limited options/supports
Increase access to services and make funding commitments to rural communities to tackle issues related to: food, health, social supports, legal services and transportation

Financial Empowerment
– Provide Income Tax Filing cost subsidies for the financially vulnerable
– Regulate pay-day lending (interest rates, number and proximity of locations)

“The County of Prince Edward applauds the province’s commitment to protecting the most vulnerable people of Ontario by seeking input into poverty reduction strategies from those who live it and those who work tirelessly to abolish it,” Ferguson’s letter states.

The report on the provincial survey responses, from Emily Cowan, Grants and Special Projects Co-ordinator, notes a number of municipal and community efforts to support those living in, or near poverty, including Reaching for Rainbows, the Recreation Outreach Centre, Good Food Box programs, food banks and Food to Share and community meal programs, Alternatives for Women and Community Care for Seniors, among many others.

Before making responses to the province’s online survey, municipal staff consulted with local organizations dedicated to poverty reduction, the two Vital Signs reports and some reports from the Poverty Roundtable Hastings Prince Edward.

As well as the second highest rate of food insecurity in Ontario, the Vital Signs reports by The County Foundation shed light on other statistics including a higher than provincial average for teen pregnancy, smoking and obesity rates and lower than median household income.

The County has more than twice the provincial rate of short-term accommodations at 17 per cent. The Vital Signs 2018 report also notes there are more homeless people in the County – living in tents, barns, on couches, some with no heat, or hydro. A 2018 municipal survey showed a .08 per cent vacancy rate for registered rental units.

“If a family’s basic needs are compromised, children suffer,” said Cowan, referencing the fact that 26 per cent of single parents in the County are living in poverty.

“Looking specifically at the factors that either contribute to people falling under the poverty line or keep them from climbing out poverty, staff have pinpointed the County’s largest hurdles, what has been done so far, and recommendations for how the municipality and province can help to remove them,” stated Cowan.

Every five years, the province develops a new Poverty Reduction Strategy with an aim toward breaking the cycle of poverty to ensure everyone has a chance to succeed and contribute to their community.

In a recent news release, MPP Smith encouraged people to contribute ideas to the strategy.

Specifically he asked advice on how Ontarians can “encourage job creation and connect people to employment; provide people with the right supports and services, and lower the cost of living and make life more affordable.”

The online survey was posted on Ontario.ca in January 2020 for approximately 60 days where organizations and individuals are encouraged to submit feedback. Click here to have your say, or email prso@ontario.ca

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  1. Susan says:

    Interesting. In reality however,how would a province 360 Billion in debt, accomplish such a feat?

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