September 2, 2014

Ontario's 2nd Poverty Reduction Strategy: Expanding Health and Dental Benefits ...

Ontario's 2nd Poverty Reduction Strategy is being released on Wednesday, September 3.

No doubt it will build on things included in the first PRS. And it will no doubt incorporate things announced in the 2014 Budget.

A very important piece will be to see how the Government will expand dental and prescription drugs benefits to children and adults with low incomes. This is what the Wynne Government announced in its 2014 budget:

As part of the first Poverty Reduction Strategy, the government launched the Healthy Smiles Ontario program in 2010, which provides dental services to children in low‐income working families. Beginning in April 2014, program eligibility is being expanded to give 70,000 more children access to dental services.
The government will further integrate existing publicly funded dental programs for children into the Healthy Smiles Ontario program to provide seamless enrolment and streamlined administration.The government is also proposing to further expand access to health benefits for children in low‐income families. Once fully implemented, children in low‐income families would be eligible to receive additional health benefits including prescription drugs, assistive devices, vision care and mental health services. By expanding eligibility to approximately 500,000 children, these benefits and services would further improve health outcomes for low‐income children and help their families remain in employment.

Moving forward, the government will consult with stakeholders to explore options to extend health benefits to all low‐income Ontarians.
If it does nothing else, the second Poverty Reduction Strategy should make good on these promises. That would be an important step forward for all Ontarians.

But it will be good if the strategy moves on other things like decent employment and adequate income supports, affordable housing and a plan to tackle homelessness.

June 2, 2014

Who has the best plan to lift people out of poverty in Ontario?

May 6, 2009 was a memorable and uplifting day for me. And it happened in the Ontario legislature.

The Ontario legislature is not usually a place associated with uplifting memories. More often it’s a place known for acrimonious debate and other antics.

But on that memorable day, I was sitting in the balcony and watching the vote for third reading of the Poverty Reduction Act.

As the Poverty Advocate for Mennonite Central Committee Ontario and an active member of the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction, I had taken a keen interest in this legislation.

The Liberal Government had tabled Bill 152, as it was numbered, earlier in the year. It followed the introduction of Ontario’s first poverty reduction strategy in 2008. And it echoed poverty reduction legislation passed in Quebec a few years before.

I spent many hours in community meetings poring over the draft legislation and crafting recommendations to strengthen it. We met with members of all three parties to talk about the legislation and proposed changes.

On that memorable day in May 2009, I watched as poverty reduction legislation which included many of the recommendations from community groups and also constructive amendments from the Progressive Conservatives and New Democratic Party was debated and voted on.  To my amazement, the Poverty Reduction Act was passed unanimously.

You might be sceptical. After all, voting to reduce poverty is like voting for motherhood and apple pie. Who could be opposed to it?

May 15, 2014

Talking Jobs -- Ontario Election 2014

Ontario's into week two of a provincial election campaign. Maybe you have noticed.

The theme for the week seems to be jobs. And the Progressive Conservatives have captured headlines with two seemingly contradictory election promises. One is a pledge to create a million jobs over the next eight years. The second is to lay off 100,000 public sector workers over the next four years.

May 14 falls in the middle of week two of the election campaign. Community groups campaigning to have the minimum wage increased to $14 an hour are holding events on the 14th. The focus there is to make sure that jobs pay enough to lift you out of poverty if you are working full-time, full-year.

And the Bank of Canada just released a report calling into question the quality of jobs that have been created in Canada since the recession. Its seems alot of the new jobs are part-time. But people would like to be working full-time.

So the question for Governments and for political parties seeking to form Government is not just whether they have a plan to help create jobs but whether their plan supports the creation of decent, well-paying jobs.

April 16, 2014

Putting Teeth in Ontario's Second Poverty Reduction Strategy

The Wynne Government has yet to release Ontario's Second Poverty Reduction Strategy. But there are some things we know will be in it and some things we can hope will be.

Dental care for low income households will be in the strategy. The fifth annual progress report on the PRS already announced last December:  "Our government will integrate provincial low-income dental programs for children and youth into a single new Healthy Smiles Ontario Program in 2015." 

This builds upon two things in the first PRS. One was the expansion of the Children in Need of Treatment (CINOT) program to cover youth up to age 18. It used to just go up to age 14. 

The second was introduction of Healthy Smiles Ontario -- preventive dental services for children and youth in low income households who are not covered through social assistance. When launched in 2010, Healthy Smiles Ontario was to reach 130,000 children and youth. By 2013, the Government reported 47,000 had been enrolled.

As of April 2014, the income threshold for eligibility for Healthy Smiles was raised slightly: from $20,000 to $21,513 in Adjusted Family Net Income -- with a higher threshold for families with more than one child. That threshold still seems rather low. But the Government projects it will allow another 70,000 children and youth the be enrolled. Perhaps income eligibility for the Healthy Smiles Program should be aligned with the Ontario Child Benefit, so that any child whose family receives the OCB and does not have private dental coverage could be enrolled in Healthy Smiles.

Will adults be included?
What we do not know is whether the new Poverty Reduction Strategy will include dental services for adults with low incomes. 

Brighter Prospects, the final report of the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance, recommended the Government "make prescription drugs, dental, and other health benefits available to all low income

In 2012, research by the Association of Ontario Health Centres found that there were almost 58,000 emergency room visits for oral health problems. The total estimated cost of those visits in 2012 was at least $30 million. 

The Government should redirect the spending on emergency room treatment of oral health problems into a program of preventive and emergency dental care for low-income adults. 

April 11, 2014

A Chocolate-Making Extravaganza

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.” ― Charles M. Schulz

In February, a local woman who often makes fancy chocolates for gifts and various events, offered to come in and teach the women & children involved with Circles how to make chocolates. Folks say that diamonds are a girl's best friend, but if the number of attendees that evening is any indication, I would say the same is true about chocolate! This was a very well-attended event! We had such a blast together learning the chocolate-molding ropes. Women walked away from this event with some new ideas on how to make inexpensive and delicious gifts for others, as well as with some scrumptious samples that they themselves had made! 

March 27, 2014

Taxes and the Common Good

Thursday, April 3, 2014, the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coaltion (ISARC) has Dr. Alex Himmelfarb speaking about Taxes and the Common Good.

Alex is the Director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs. He is also a former Clerk of the Privy Council.

Alex has also co-edited Tax is Not a Four Letter Word.

To register for the forum contact

March 6, 2014

The Failure of Corporate Tax Cuts

I am reading the Great Revenue Robbery -- put out by Canadians for Tax Fairness and published by Between the Lines.

I picked up the book months ago when Dennis Howlett was in town on a book tour. I'm slowly making my way through the book. Alot of interesting stuff.

Jim Stanford's chapter on the failure of corporate tax cuts is a particular eye opener. Since the late 1980s, federal and provincial governments have steadily cut the corporate tax rate.

The economic rationale behind cutting corporate tax rates is that businesses will invest more if they can keep more of their profits.

Turns out it hasn't really worked.
Since the investment spending has declined, but business cash flow has increased.