Poverty Reduction of Muskoka Planning Team PROMPT by 67uWH7

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									PROMPPoPoverty Reduction Of Muskoka Planning Team


Submission to the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance

Introduction

The objective of Poverty Reduction of Muskoka Planning Team (PROMPT)
is to reduce poverty in the District of Muskoka through advocacy, public
education and community mobilization. Our group is not yet 3 years old.
We are people with lived experience, social service providers, community
partners and volunteers.

Our focus has been on food and income security, building awareness
about poverty in Muskoka and our organization. For the past 2 summers
we have sponsored allotment and community gardens in 3 communities
and offered a fresh food basket program that is quickly becoming
available throughout the District. We have been active participants in the
Put Food in the Budget Campaign, including the organization of a local
version of the food bank diet challenge. The first graduates of our Social
Justice Speakers School learned public speaking skills and delivered
speeches on social justice topics of personal interest this past June.

In preparing to respond to the issues raised by the Commission reviewing
the social assistance programs, we held 5 community meetings across
the District with people who have lived experience with the system and
poverty.

Social Inclusion

The underlying theme of our submission is that a reformed social
assistance system needs to be predicated on principles of social
inclusion.

The stigma and social isolation of poverty are debilitating and counter
productive. They have created huge barriers to independence and we
heard many examples at our meetings of how the welfare label denied
people jobs, housing and opportunities to move lives forward.

We also heard two things repeatedly in our sessions. First, if people
could provide for themselves and be independent of the system they
would choose to do that. And second, after being in the system awhile,
they are trapped and the struggle to escape is overwhelming.


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People living in poverty have aspirations and abilities, amazing survival
skills and hopes for a better future. Being on social assistance is not a
choice, but a reality when there is no choice. Accident, disease, family
break up, family violence, job loss, things that can happen to anyone, are
the true reasons people end up on assistance.

The primary objectives of a new social assistance system must be to
provide people with the tools to fully participate according to their
abilities in community and work. They should be entitled to an adequate
income tied the real costs of living.

It is also time to design a system that includes fighting stigma and
overcoming the social isolation it creates. If programs have been designed
successfully on tough issues like reducing smoking or fighting racism,
the same can be achieved in banishing for good, outdated notions of who
are the deserving poor.

Currently there is little opportunity for social inclusion among people on
social assistance due to lack of affordable transportation so our sessions
turned out to be a rare opportunity to socialize. They provided a chance
to discuss solutions, find out about resources in the community and
share ideas on how to make budgets stretch. For example, plans were
made to hold a workshop on how to make a year’s worth of cleaning
products with $15.00 worth of supplies.

This led to the suggestion that space should be made available in
communities so that people on assistance can meet regularly over coffee
to share information, barter their skills and trade practical survival
ideas. Maybe the next course on how to dress for work should be given
by someone on assistance whose figured out how do it with little money
and knows where to shop locally.

Sustainability

We share your vision for a 21st century income security system that
enables all Ontarians to live with dignity, participate in their
communities and to a prospering economy. However, we are concerned
about whether the necessary financial resources will be made available
to support it. Political decisions have not been taken to significantly
improve the system even when economic times have been good.

This visionary system requires a significant investment of resources,
recognition that there are opportunities for greater savings in the future
and that investment in people is a valuable untapped resource in
building prospering communities.


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From the perspective of future health care spending, poverty is too
expensive to ignore. It is now indisputable that poverty, homelessness
and inadequate housing and poor nutrition lead to poor health, chronic
disease and early death.

Recently in the news it was reported that there will be a world wide
shortage of workers once baby boomers are retired. Investments made
now in training, education and overcoming barriers to employment
equips people to be workers in the future economy and it is the key to
life long independence from the system. Greater value must be placed on
supporting part time workers with proper training and income support.

Whether people can participate in the workforce or not, it makes good
economic sense to give people needing assistance enough money to fully
meet all basic needs. The dollars spent on basic needs remains local and
helps build local economy. These dollars are not invested elsewhere and
rarely go on vacation.

Overcoming barriers to employment

The expectation to accept the first job available does not move people off
social assistance for long. There needs to be an individual client
centered flexible approach that assesses real barriers each individual
faces and designs a program accordingly. People also need to be real
partners in designing their own vocational plans taking into account
their aspirations and abilities.

Making people participate in programs simply for the purpose of
participating and don’t lead to jobs is a waste of resources. Only
programs that can lead to real jobs should be offered.

All types of barriers need to be overcome, not just those related to
education and training. These include mental and physical health issues,
learning disabilities, building self esteem and confidence. There is a
desperate need for more resources for child care, access to dental care
and dentures, transportation and basic phone service.

Special project funding should be widely available for community based
and micro business approaches to job development. These approaches
have had great success in third world settings and here in Canada. They
have the advantage of building on abilities people already have, being
responsive to increasing individual capacity, meeting unmet local needs
and contributing to local economies.




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As well programs like the Community Engagement Program offered by
the District of Muskoka should be expanded. Participants are involved in
steering committees for planning, development and implementation of
initiatives that increase skills and overcome barriers to work. This
program has also achieved expansion of Muskoka’s Fresh Food Basket
Program, community garden projects and a community kitchen.

Rules

At our sessions people agreed there are too many rules and too many
related to verifying ongoing eligibility. Many people agreed when
someone said that “enhanced verification feels like enhanced
discrimination.” Programs like the child tax benefit manage to ensure
eligibility without intrusive invasion of privacy and making people feel
their lives are so open to scrutiny and judgment.

With so much focus on rules, policy and procedure to ensure eligibility
there are too little resources accorded to activities that can build lasting
independence, plan for real jobs and participation in community. We
think the ratio of emphasis and resources should be radically shifted
between these functions.

Whatever the rules, they need to be simplified, clear and accessible for
everyone to find. Information about what services and benefits exist
should be as available as the rules to apply and remain eligible.

Application of rules must include basic respect and dignity for the people
to whom they are applied.

Rates and manner of payment

The rates of benefits needs to be based on realistic costs of living and
should be tied to real measures of those costs. Basic needs include
shelter, good nutritional food, clothing, personal needs, preventive dental
care, basic phone service, transportation and social inclusion allowances.

There needs to be more access to drugs not currently covered, services
no longer covered by OHIP, oxygen and all diabetes supplies.

Housing costs need to be tied to CMHC average rental rates and include
the real costs of utilities. Government energy programs and policy needs
to recognize that low income renters do not have control over energy
saving capital improvements and design incentives for landlords to make
improvements to rental properties that will lower heating costs.




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Allowances for food should be tied to the nutritional food basket as
assessed by public health authorities at a local level. The nutritional food
basket measures the average cost of food by area of the province. This
approach recognizes the varying costs for nutritious depending where
you live in the province.

Food is a means to social inclusion. Our society socializes around food,
we entertain our friends over a meal. When there is not enough to feed
yourself or your family, there is little or no opportunity share a meal
socially. For children on assistance, pizza day at school can be a
nightmare of not fitting in. Basic needs have to include some modest
recognition for cost of items that foster social inclusion like sharing a
simple meal, seeing a movie or participating in a recreational activity.

The amount of money a person can earn before it is clawed back should
be significantly increased. Proposing an amount is difficult without
knowing what rates of assistance may apply in a new system. One
suggestion is there should be no claw back of earnings as long as income
from work is applied to covering basic needs. Another suggestion was to
have the ability to keep more earnings above whatever limit is set to pay
for emergencies that arise. Another way to help cover emergencies is to
allow greater retention of assets.

Alternate delivery systems are a welcomed idea particularly related to
medical coverage, housing costs and childcare if they are also available
to people working part time or low waged work. If more assistance is
delivered this way, clear and easily assessable ways have to be built in to
fix problems and appeal decisions.

If there are a variety of programs created to meet various needs they need
to be designed to fit together easily and be available through one access
point in the community.




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