Policy Recommendations

A future without hunger

Hunger in Ontario is not a consequence of a lack of food, but a symptom of poverty. To end hunger, we must come together to create policy solutions that alleviate poverty.

Ways to build a better Ontario

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Food banks provide a wide range of emergency and support services to those facing hunger; however, they are not a solution to food insecurity or poverty. Food insecurity and poverty are complex issues that can only be solved by good public policy and adequate support programs that ensure all Ontarians have the income they need to afford their basic necessities each month.

Ways in which the Government of Ontario can take immediate action in addressing food insecurity and poverty in our province include:

Improve Ontario’s social assistance programs

People who rely on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program live in poverty. The income assistance provided by either program falls significantly below what is needed for a basic standards of living. When adults and children are struggling with hunger and the stress of not having enough, it becomes even more difficult to secure stable employment, excel at school, or participate in the community. Providing social assistance recipients with enough income for a basic standard of living is essential to moving the needle on poverty.

Our recommendations:

Align social assistance rates and benefits with the cost of living Expand

  • Increase the income support available to Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipients to meet a minimum income standard (as defined by the Market Basket Measure) in combination with other income security measures.
    • As an interim step, raise rates to account for the growth in the cost of living since 2018. This would bring a single person on OW from $733/month to $841/month, and a single person on ODSP from $1,228/month to $1,342/month.
  • Maintain social assistance rates alongside inflation.

Modernize rules to ensure resiliency and dignity Expand

  • Combine basic needs and shelter allowances into a standard flat rate that is consistent regardless of living situation.
  • Treat payments received from Canada Pension Plan-Disability, Employment Insurance, and Workplace Safety Insurance Board the same as earned income.
  • Eliminate the $10,000 limit on voluntary gifts and payments and raise the limit on cash and other liquid assets to $20,000 for OW recipients. For ODSP recipients, eliminate the $10,000 limit on voluntary gifts and payments and raise the asset limit to $100,000.
  • Protect the retirement funds of recipients by exempting all funds held in RRSPs from the asset test.
  • Align the definition of a spouse with the Family Law Act.

Improve access to supports Expand

  • Improve and simplify the ODSP application and review process.
  • Implement automatic enrollment for benefits paid to social assistance recipients.
  • Work with the federal government to implement automatic tax filing for social assistance recipients.
  • Invest in information and support services, such as free tax clinics, legal aid services, and community access to computers with internet.
  • Implement a new digital access benefit for social assistance recipients to pay for essential phone and internet equipment, and digital literacy training that will assist with using new digital tools and platforms.

Extend social assistance benefit coverage Expand

  • Extend social assistance’s Extended Health Benefits (EHB) coverage to at least 12 months as a first step, and then expand the benefit to all low-income families as a second step.
  • Retain ODSP special purpose allowances and benefits until an individual can regain financial independence.

Invest in affordable housing

Housing is the single largest expense for most households. Surveys of food bank clients found that 1 in 5 respondents skipped meals to pay rent, and 60% have less than $100 left each month after paying for housing and utilities. This leaves very little left over for other necessities like food.

To address food insecurity, particular attention should be paid to renters, as 86% of food bank visitors rent their home, a rate nearly three times higher than the general population. However, affordable rental housing is in short supply across the province: an analysis of average rental costs in communities across the province shows that average rent is only affordable in 2 out of 100 cities and towns. There is a long wait list for social housing in every community in Ontario.

Our recommendations:

Strengthen laws to protect tenants and create more affordable housing Expand

  • Introduce legislation that regulates the amount a landlord is permitted to increase rent between tenants to stabilize the price of rent and disincentivize evicting long-term tenants.
  • Retain rent control on all affordable units delivered through the National Housing Strategy in perpetuity.

Invest in the construction and repair of social and supportive housing Expand

  • Over the next 10 years:
    • Build 69,000 permanently affordable rental homes.
    • Extend the life of 260,000 community-owned rental homes.
    • Create 30,000 new supportive housing units geared towards those managing mental health and addiction challenges.

Expand the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit Expand

  • Expand the number of households who can receive the COHB to reach 311,000 households.
  • Adopt a definition of affordable housing based on what local households can afford to pay and encourage municipalities to do the same.

Build a stronger workforce

A low unemployment rate is a good metric for assessing what percentage of the province’s total labour force is unemployed; however, this metric does not speak to the quality of the jobs that people are occupying. As of 2019, Ontario had the highest proportion of minimum wage workers in Canada; and, in the last four years alone, Ontario’s food banks have seen a 44% increase in the number of people with employment accessing their services. In order to build our province’s resilience and strengthen Ontario’s workforce, simply connecting people to jobs will not be enough. Workers need to have access to stable employment that provides a living wage, as well as paid sick days, and proper support through worker programs like WSIB.

Our recommendations:

Develop and protect labour laws that benefit workers Expand

  • Increase the number of provincially-legislated paid sick days from three to ten, and make them permanent beyond the pandemic.
  • Increase the provincial minimum wage to be a living wage, and remove exemptions for students, liquor servers, farmworkers, and others.
  • Reinstate the right to refuse last-minute requests to work and the right to at least three hours’ pay for shifts that are cancelled without notice.
  • Provide all workers full and equal access to employment rights, equal pay for equal work, and benefit programs like EI, CPP and WSIB.
  • Increase enforcement of the Employment Standards Act and improve protections and access to justice for workers whose rights have been violated.
  • Classify gig workers as employees to ensure that they receive the same protections provided under the Employment Standards Act, Employment Insurance, and the Canada Pension Plan.

Allow low-income workers to keep more of their income Expand

  • Increase earning exemptions and reduce clawbacks under Ontario’s social assistance programs.
    • For OW recipients, match the earned income clawbacks to ODSP ($1000/month + 75%).
    • Decrease the waiting period that earned income exemptions apply from three months to one month.
  • Increase the impact and reach of the Low Income Families Tax (LIFT) credit by making a portion of it refundable.
  • Work with the federal government to change the way the Canada Workers Benefit is calculated to better support individuals transitioning from social assistance to work.

Enhance worker support programs like WSIB & EI Expand

  • Improve WSIB accessibility, including providing universal coverage for all Ontario workers, increased transparency, and working in collaboration with the treating doctor.
  • Work with the federal government to improve EI accessibility for Ontarians.

Put people at the centre

Ontarians living in poverty are the experts on the challenges that they face and the ones that will be most impacted by changes or enhancements to provincial policies and programs. Including the perspectives of people living in poverty and/or those with lived experience is therefore essential to investments and policies meet the needs of those they are intended to assist.

Our recommendations:

Consult with people who have lived experiences of poverty Expand

  • Ensure that the voices of people with lived experience are at the table and that their insight is used to guide the decision-making process as the strategy is developed and rolled out across the province.
  • Establish a Social Assistance Research Commission to advise on policy direction and rates.

Define poverty and the outcomes we are working towards Expand

  • Establish Ontario’s Market Basket Measure and set it as Ontario’s official poverty line.
  • Commit to ongoing participation in the Household Food Security Module.
  • Build trust through publicly available reporting on progress and outcomes, by:
    • Establishing an annual, publicly available report that measures progress against outcomes.
    • Appointing a third-party body to review the annual progress report and provide feedback to Cabinet, and
    • Requiring both the report and third-party assessment to be tabled in Legislature.

Support the work of community organizations Expand

  • Bolster volunteerism by creating a provincial volunteer recovery strategy.
  • Leverage existing resources, including public infrastructure and procurement dollars, to multiply economic and social benefits in communities.
  • Remove barriers for non-profits to build critical infrastructure including affordable housing, child care centers, LTC homes, and other community amenities.

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