| Mar 12, 2009

Back to HomeLegalese - March 12, 2009 Progress on the Poverty Reduction Strategy

by William A. Florence, Barrister and Solicitorr, Rural Legal Services

A recent Legalese column considered what was involved in developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy in light of the Ontario government’s announced intention to create its own strategy. By way of review, some key elements of a Poverty Reduction Strategy include:

identifying appropriate methods to measure poverty;

establishing targets and timetables;

developing components of an action plan in consultation with the community; and

systematically monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the strategy.

The Ontario government has established a Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction. The name of Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy is “Breaking the Cycle”. On December 4, 2008 the committee made a major announcement. Ontario’s poverty reduction goal is to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent over five years. The two key elements of the strategy are raising benefits levels for low-income families with children, and enhancing publicly funded education.

The benefit for low-income families called the Ontario Child Benefit is proposed to be increased $230 million annually, so that 1.3 million children who are living in low-income families will receive up to $1310 a year.

As for enhancements to publicly funded education, the proposed focus is on early learning and community support. Some examples are: enhancement of “at risk” youth programs in schools; support for more recreation programs; increased summer job programs; establishment of a fund for investing in community revitalization projects in high-needs communities; provision of parenting supports for low-income families; and provision of full-day learning for four and five-year-olds with an initial focus on low-income communities.

The Committee on Poverty Reduction also undertook to review social assistance programs such as Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, with a “person-centred approach”. An emphasis will be placed on removing barriers on people attempting the transition to employment from social assistance. In a press release dated December 4, 2008, Ms. Mary Marrone, Director of the Income Security Advocacy Centre, stated: “We applaud the government for meeting its commitment to introduce a poverty reduction plan…But we are particularly encouraged by the recognition that OW and ODSP are not equipped to meet the goal of poverty reduction in Ontario. We can’t make progress on poverty reduction with programs that systematically undermine the people they’re supposed to be helping”.

The regulations under the Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program legislation have been amended to implement some “immediate rule changes” that were promised. The regulations are related to: new income/asset exemptions available to post-secondary students; an expansion of the “up front child care” benefit; and a change in the prescribed time for requesting an internal review of OW and ODSP decisions.

Another major announcement from the committee came on February 25, 2009. Ontario has introduced poverty reduction legislation, called the Poverty Reduction Act, (Bill 152). The legislation, if passed, would require the government to: annually report on key indicators such as income levels, school success, health care and housing; consult widely prior to developing future strategies; require a new strategies to be developed at least every five years; and mandate specific poverty reduction targets every five years.

These are all positive developments, and the hope is that given the current economic climate, the provincial government does not lose sight of these important goals.

Legalese is a column of general information and opinion on legal topics by the lawyers of Rural Legal Services, Box 359, Sharbot Lake, ON, K0H2P0, 613-279-3252, or 1-888-777-8916. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should contact a lawyer to determine your legal rights and obligations.

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