The McGuinty government is committed to improving the quality of life for all Ontarians, particularly the most vulnerable citizens. Giving everyone a fair chance to succeed is the right thing to do — for society and for the economy.
In December 2008, the government released a report entitled Breaking the Cycle: Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy. The strategy is designed to harness the potential of Ontarians, create opportunity and build a stronger economy so that every Ontarian has a chance to enjoy a better quality of life.
The strategy's target is to reduce the number of children living in poverty by 25 per cent over the next 5 years. All low-income families with children would see the benefits of this strategy, which would help lift 90,000 children out of poverty.
The government, however, cannot do this alone. Meeting this goal depends on having a willing partner in the federal government, as well as a growing economy.
The Poverty Reduction Strategy builds on the historic introduction of the Ontario Child Benefit (OCB), announced in the 2007 Ontario Budget, which gives low- and moderate-income families the financial support they need to provide for their children. It also helps build a stronger economy by making it easier for parents to leave social assistance for employment. Under the OCB initiative, families continue to receive children's benefits after beginning employment, unlike in the social assistance system.
In December 2008, the Poverty Reduction Strategy committed to a maximum OCB level of $1,310 annually per child within five years. The government remains committed to this goal.
The strategy also builds on the province's foundational investments in education to help children living in poverty stay in school, so they can acquire the tools and knowledge necessary to thrive and succeed. The strategy includes investments in education and early learning, and in building stronger communities, to be phased in over 5 years.
The McGuinty government understands the importance of continuing to invest in the Poverty Reduction Strategy, even in these difficult economic times. In fact, with the measures announced in the 2009 Budget, the government is proposing to accelerate the strategy's implementation so that Ontario's most vulnerable have the best chance to weather this economic storm. These investments will also provide much-needed economic stimulus.
The government is proposing to accelerate the phase-in of the OCB by two years, providing low- and moderate-income families with up to $1,100 per child annually, starting in July 2009. This would mean:
The government would also increase OCB payments for children and youth in the care of Children's Aid Societies and Crown wards. Starting in July 2009, the benefits would increase to $1,100 per child annually.
To help low- and middle-income Ontarians and ease the transition to the single sales tax, the government is proposing $10.6 billion in tax relief for people over three years, including:
This Budget provides more than $35 million over two years, including more than $12 million annually on an ongoing basis, to enhance the Youth Opportunities Strategy (YOS). This would more than double ongoing support for the YOS, a commitment of the Poverty Reduction Strategy. The YOS helps young people in high-risk neighbourhoods reach their full potential through the creation of key opportunities, including targeted funding for summer jobs.
The government is proposing to make investments in community hubs, where people can gather to stay active, learn and participate in community-based organizations. These proposed investments include $3 million in 2009-10 to help establish community hubs in selected low-income neighbourhoods.
To help social assistance recipients, the government is proposing to increase the adult basic needs allowance and maximum shelter allowance by two per cent in the fall of 2009. Families receiving Temporary Care Assistance and Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities would also benefit from the increase, as would those living in long-term care homes who receive the comfort allowance.
A single-parent family with two children aged five and seven receiving the OCB and social assistance would have an annualized income of $22,730 — $1,110 higher than in 2008. This would represent an increase of $5,670, or 33 per cent, from the family's 2003 annualized income.
In addition to the two per cent increase to social assistance, the government will undertake a review of social assistance with the goal of removing barriers and increasing opportunity — with a particular focus on people trying to move into employment from social assistance.
To support the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the province is proposing new housing infrastructure initiatives. Over the next two years, the province, together with the federal government, plans to invest over $1.2 billion, including:
In addition, the 2009 Ontario Budget would invest more than $5 million annually, beginning in 2009-10 to ensure stable funding for municipal rent banks across Ontario.
In the 2007 Budget, the government announced that the minimum wage would rise to $10.25 per hour by 2010. On March 31, 2009, the minimum wage will increase by 75 cents per hour as planned, bringing the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour. This is the sixth year in a row that the government has increased the minimum wage since taking office in 2003. This follows a nine-year period during which Ontario's minimum wage was frozen.
To ensure that people have secure work environments where they are treated with dignity and respect, the government is proposing to invest an additional $4.5 million annually for employment standards officers to reduce the backlog of claims and proactively enforce the Employment Standards Act, 2000.
In order to make meaningful progress in the reduction of poverty, the appropriate measures are needed. The government is proposing to develop an innovative Deprivation Index in partnership with Statistics Canada. This indicator would determine the number of households in Ontario that are lacking necessities, in order to track progress and identify gaps.
In February 2009, the government introduced poverty reduction legislation that, if passed, would ensure that successive governments remain focused on the fight against poverty. As proposed in Breaking the Cycle: Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy, the proposed Poverty Reduction Act would:
In 2006, the federal government unilaterally terminated the Early Learning and Child Care agreement. With the last federal payment made in 2006-07, Ontario has been able to support almost 8,500 child care spaces across the province, through to 2009-10.
However, beginning in 2010-11, a commitment of ongoing support from the federal government is essential if Ontario is to maintain these child care spaces. Ontario calls on the federal government to reconsider its decision to terminate the agreement. The federal government must initiate new funding measures to support child care.
The federal government is proposing to double its funding for the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB), which supplements the earnings of low-income workers. Ontario is working with the federal government to ensure that the enhanced WITB realizes its objective of supporting vulnerable individuals and improving the incentive to work in Ontario and the rest of Canada. It is critical that the enhanced WITB design be properly integrated with existing tax and transfer systems. The Ontario government will continue to flow the full amount of the benefit through to Ontarians receiving social assistance and other income-based programs.
The measures announced in the 2009 Ontario Budget and in Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy build on initiatives the McGuinty government has introduced since 2003-04 to support low-income families and individuals, including: