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April 23, 2020

More financial support needed during pandemic for people who were already living in poverty

The Ontario government has taken many steps to reduce the economic impact of COVID-19, and yet, low-income Ontarians are being left out. “We are hearing from clients who are increasingly unsure how they will make ends meet,” said Lisa Turik, a lawyer with the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre (CALC). “They are facing enormous pressure from rising food costs, are struggling with getting to grocery stores and food banks, and finding some essential and sale items out of stock when they do make it out to buy food. Having only irregular public transit to rely on is making matters even more difficult.”

Although extra financial support of $100 for individuals and $200 for families may be available to those receiving income support from Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Plan to help cover the costs of COVID-19, this is only a one-time benefit for April at this time. “Many people are not aware this benefit exists, and they still need to call their worker before April 30 to apply. And they should do so as soon as possible,” said Turik. CALC is asking the government to make this benefit available again in May – automatically this time. “This hardship is not going to end April 30. Everyone is facing higher costs. The government says it doesn’t want anyone to worry about paying rent or feeding their families. So why not make it simple, by automatically adding this COVID benefit to May’s cheque?” CALC is one of many organizations asking the provincial government to increase the social assistance rates immediately. “They are insufficient at the best of times, so this issue has become critical right now,” observed Turik.

CALC staff are hearing about challenges navigating Belleville’s public transit system, which switched to on-demand only service March 28. These changes are complicating already difficult circumstances for people with disabilities who rely on public transit. “We received a call this week from a disabled client, who like all the people we help, can only afford to shop at low cost outlets. When she finally gets to a store, the items needed are often out of stock. So she’s had to go out multiple times for food and supplies. Because she needs to call 24 hours ahead to make a reservation for the bus, if stores have run out of something, it becomes a big problem. Getting home, sometimes people have to wait two hours for a bus. They can’t afford a taxi. It’s just an impossible situation. It could certainly be easier if people had a more money in their pocket to cover all the extraordinary expenses from the pandemic,” noted Turik.

There are many new programs trying to support vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Free income tax clinics are slowly being re-opened to help people file their income tax return, to maintain their eligibility for tax credits, as well as apply for the “climate action incentive” benefit. To help ensure that people understand what financial help they may be entitled to because of the pandemic, CALC staff developed a simple chart  and infographic which can be found on their new COVID-19 resource blog at https://communitylegalcentre.ca/blog/covid-19-information. This blog is updated several times a week with new legal and other information, including about free local tax clinics. People are encouraged to access the blog for the most up-to-date information as changes are announced by the government almost daily. Anyone with problems accessing income support they are entitled to, or experiencing difficulties at work, or with their landlord, is encouraged to call the community legal clinic at 613-966-8686 or email calc@lao.on.ca.

Media contact:

Deirdre McDade, Co-Director of Legal Services, by phone or email at 613-966-8686 x26 or mcdaded@lao.on.ca.

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April 8, 2020

More than 130 Community Organizations Call on Ontario to Cancel Clawbacks and Increase Supports for Vulnerable People During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Open Letter and Virtual Press Conference

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused sickness, loss of life, tremendous anxiety, and immense economic disruption. Deirdre McDade, Co-Director of Legal Services, at the Community Advocacy & Legal Centre (CALC) notes that “it has undermined the income security of many Ontarians.” She observed that while federal and provincial governments have taken positive steps to provide additional income support, low-income Ontarians are falling through the cracks. They are facing rising economic pressure from unexpected expenses, increasing food costs, having children at home with lack of access to school and community food programs, and lack of transportation to grocery stores and food banks.

In an open letter to the Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services, a broad coalition of more than 130 organizations including CALC, the local Poverty Roundtable, food banks, health providers, faith groups, other legal clinics, low-income Ontarians, and community groups from across the province have called for two immediate changes to Ontario’s social assistance programs. These changes would help low-income Ontarians to make ends meet during this emergency.

First, the letter calls for social assistance rates to be immediately increased. “Ontario’s social assistance rates are far below the poverty line. It is nearly impossible to survive on them at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic with extra expenses and rising costs everywhere,” said McDade. Raising the rates would also mean more people will qualify for social assistance. “This would be life-saving for many low-income Ontarians who currently do not qualify for any provincial or federal benefits but who have been knocked out by the current crisis,” said McDade.

Second, the letter calls for Ontario to not claw back federal benefits from social assistance recipients. McDade noted that “Currently, any income received from Employment Insurance (EI) or the newly announced Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will be deducted dollar-for-dollar from social assistance benefits. The new federal benefits are meant for individuals and families affected by the current emergency. We need to ensure that any money they receive stays in their pockets.” Similar changes have already been made in BC, where CERB and EI payments are exempted and social assistance payments have been increased. “There is no reason Ontario cannot do the same for our residents,” states McDade.

A virtual press conference is being held on April 8, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. with speakers from the Income Security Advocacy Centre, Health Providers Against Poverty, Daily Bread Food Bank, ODSP Action Coalition, and Clinique juridique francophone d’Ottawa. Locally, Co-Director of Legal Services Deirdre McDade is available to speak to the media for further clarification of the issues, if desired.

Media contacts:

Deirdre McDade, Co-Director of Legal Services, by phone or email at 613-966-8686 x26 or mcdaded@lao.on.ca OR Lisa Turik, CALC Lawyer, by email at turikl@lao.on.ca.

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CALC provides access to justice through quality legal services, advocacy, and information for people living on a low income or in poverty, while promoting legal empowerment and collaborating with community partners.