Hunger Awareness Week: Who Do You Think Uses the Food Bank?

May 5th-9th is Hunger Awareness Week in Canada

The 2008 recession may have hit six years ago, but Ontarians are still dealing with the aftermath. Full time jobs with benefits are merely a dream for thousands of Ontarians who are carrying the burden of a downtrodden economy. While salaries decrease, the cost of housing, hydro bills, childcare, and food are on the rise. The media and our governments may proclaim our economy is on the mend, but the people visiting food banks today paint a much different picture.

Food bank use in Ontario hit an all time high in March 2012, when 412,998 individuals relied on support from their local food bank during that month alone. Numbers have decreased slightly since, but food banks in this province are struggling to keep up with demand. Factory closures, company downsizing, and depletions of personal savings are leading many who once considered themselves middle-class Canadians, to turn to social support services to make ends meet.

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The traditional idea of who uses a food bank is a myth. There are no traditional food bank clients. In fact, the largest group of individuals accessing food banks are children. Close to 40 per cent of food bank clients in this province are boys and girls under the age of 18.

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Would you guess that two of the fastest growing groups of food bank users are senior citizens over the age of 65, and current post-secondary students and recent graduates? Did you know that there is a food bank or emergency food support program on almost every university and college campus in the province?

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Hunger is a symptom of poverty. Food banks in our provincial network understand this, and are working tirelessly every day to alleviate poverty in their communities. By planting and tending to community gardens, lobbying their MPPs for raises to social assistance, hosting a job fair and resume writing session, building a community kitchen, and running after school snack programs, food banks are proving day-in and day-out that they understand what hunger looks like, and why it is happening.

At the provincial level, the Ontario Association of Food Banks strongly believes that the provincial government can and should take a more active role in tackling the root causes of hunger. That is why we are asking Queen’s Park to create a housing benefit for low-income tenants, develop a provincial food policy that ultimately provides access to affordable, nutritious food, and complete a thorough review of Ontario’s social assistance programs, while focusing on an increase in secure, quality employment.

This Hunger Awareness Week, ask yourself: who do you think uses food banks, and more importantly, why? Together, we can take a stand against hunger and poverty.

The hashtag for Hunger Awareness Week is #HungerWeek
For more information, please visit: OntarioHunger.ca or oafb.ca

 Follow Ontario Association of Food Banks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OAFB

 

Poverty reduction key to fairer, more prosperous Ontario

By: Sarah Blackstock Greg deGroot-Maggetti, Published on Wed Dec 04 20

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Five years ago this week, the Ontario government embarked on a bold and historic challenge to reduce child and family poverty across our province by 25 per cent by 2013. While it appears Ontario will fall short of its “25 in 5” target, the province has made some progress and laid three critical building blocks that should provide the foundation for its next five-year strategy, expected in early 2014.

The first building block was forged in understanding the connection between fairness and economic prosperity. Ontario should take a page from the response to the most recent economic downturn, where a rising consensus emerged – including World Bank economists and finance ministers of all political stripes – that fighting poverty is required to grow our economy.

Ontario’s 2008 maxim that “we need all hands on deck” to drive our province’s recovery rings as true today as it did then. In an increasingly competitive global economy, it is crucial that we maximize the potential of every Ontarian to both participate in and benefit from economic activity. In a time of fiscal challenges, governments must invest in pathways to opportunity or be saddled with rising costs in health care and social services borne of persistent poverty.

Ontario’s second building block against poverty comes from knowing that good intentions alone cannot sustain a long-term commitment to poverty. Clear goals backed up with a comprehensive strategy must be part of the roadmap to progress.

The government’s willingness to set a clear “25 in 5” target in 2008 came with political risk and took courage. While Ontario’s performance was far from perfect, it has led to tangible gains. Ontario’s child poverty rate of 13.8 per cent in 2011, the latest year for which Statistics Canada figures are available, was down from 15.2 per cent in 2008. This means 41,000 fewer children were living in poverty, a reduction of just over 9 per cent in three, economically challenging years.

Different choices would have undoubtedly led to better outcomes, especially for households without children. But substantial early investments in policies like the new Ontario Child Benefit, refundable tax credits for low income people, and minimum wage hikes show that smart social policy works. Or at least as much as you are willing to invest in it.

The next plan must raise the bar. It should seek to cut poverty among all Ontarians in half by 2018, achieving a reduction in the overall poverty rate in Ontario to below 6 per cent and the child poverty rate to below 7.5 per cent.

The third building block for Ontario’s next poverty reduction strategy is building momentum by starting strong.

Five years ago, Ontario did not flinch in the face of a recession. The government immediately accelerated investments in the Ontario Child Benefit. It increased minimum wages when workers needed them most. It moved quickly to entrench poverty reduction into legislation. It invested in community services in priority neighbourhoods. And it revised legislation on worker protections and predatory lending practices within the first year of the plan.

These down payments were critical in achieving initial gains against poverty. They also put real money in the hands of real people to spend in their communities, providing stimulus to a battered economy.

But Ontario has not always carried through with as much vigour as the challenge of poverty requires. Case in point was the 2012 decision to eliminate the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB), a modest fund intended to provide a life-line to Ontarians at risk of homelessness.

As the next five-year blueprint is set to be unveiled early in 2014, it is time for Ontario to raise the bar on poverty reduction, starting with a substantial down payment as a building block for success.

Such a down payment should increase social assistance, the Ontario Child Benefit and the minimum wage, to build on gains from the initial strategy.

Addressing the need for affordable housing is key. As municipalities struggle with the repercussions of the CSUMB cut, Ontario should shore up its commitment to the most vulnerable by making transitional housing and homelessness funding permanent. And the government should also match federal housing funding commitments.

Action to resolve the growing precariousness of jobs is another urgent step to take to achieve fairness while helping to drive the economy.

But so much more needs to be done. The 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy opened the door for substantive action. It’s now time to act boldly toward eradicating poverty in our province by investing in a prosperity agenda that benefits us all.

Sarah Blackstock of YWCA-Toronto and Greg deGroot-Maggetti of Mennonite Central Committee Ontario represent the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction.

Hydro rates goes up by 3%

By:  Business reporter, Published on Thu Oct 17 2013

Ontario consumers will face higher hydro bills starting Nov. 1 — with the sharpest percentage increase coming during off-peak hours.

Time of use electricity rates, which are now paid by most consumers and small businesses, are due to rise by 0.5 cents a kilowatt hour for all time periods, the Ontario Energy Board announced Thursday.

The increase affects only the energy portion of the bill; consumers pay additional charges for delivery and debt retirement, plus a fixed monthly amount.

Those who pay time-of-use rates will pay about 3 per cent more for electricity on their total bill — or $4 a month on a monthly hydro bill of 800 kilowatt hours, according to the energy board.

Consumers who buy power from energy retailers at a fixed price won’t be affected by the new prices, which will be in effect for six months.

The new price for peak power will be 12.9 cents a kilowatt hour; for mid-peak, 10.9 cents a kilowatt hour; and for off-peak, 7.2 cents a kilowatt hour.

In percentage terms, the off-peak power price jumps 7.5 per cent, while the peak price rises only 4 per cent, and mid-peak 4.8 per cent.

The board said the new prices are being driven by “more generation from sources including renewables, along with a higher market price for natural gas.”

Gas and renewables are set to play a bigger role in Ontario’s power market, as the last coal plants shut down. The province has decided not to build new nuclear reactors.

The new rates continue to shrink the gap between peak and off-peak prices.

Five years ago, the peak price was more than three times the off-peak price; today, it’s less than twice the off-peak price.

Peter Tabuns, energy critic for the New Democratic Party, said the new prices reduce the incentive for people to consume less during the peak.

“That seems to be contrary to everything they’ve been saying in the past,” he said in an interview.

“So everyone who’s switched to doing their laundry in the middle of the night is going to be paying more than they would have.

“The other thing that struck me is that the increase in the cost of electricity is an awful lot more than the rate of inflation,” he added, saying the government should do more to promote conservation.

Time of use pricing is meant to discourage short, sharp peaks in demand. To supply those peaks, the power system has to build expensive plants that operate only a few hours a day, and only during part of the year.

Conservative critic Lisa MacLeod linked the latest price increase with the cost of moving unpopular gas-fired plants out of Oakville and Mississauga, estimated by the provincial auditor-general to be $1.1 billion.

“The way this government’s mismanaged energy, someone’s got to pay for it and unfortunately they’re going to have the say: It’s the ratepayer,” she said. “There’s no way to recover this money from the Liberal Party of Ontario.”

Energy minister Bob Chiarelli avoided any direct comment when asked about the new prices.

“Since 2003, the Ontario government has made smart, strategic investments in both transmission and generation infrastructure to bring us into a healthy supply situation in order to power our homes, farms and businesses,” he said in a statement.

An official in his office said prices are tracking lower than those predicted by the Liberals’ long-term energy plan released in 2010.

Julie Girvan of the Consumers Council of Canada said in an interview she’d like to see more clarity from the energy board about the impact that time of use pricing has had on consumer behaviour and on hydro bills.

Energy board spokesman Alan Findlay said that the board has been gathering data about the impact, and will be releasing a report by the end of the year.

In setting rates, “the approach is to match the costs of supply with the appropriate time period they’re used,” he said.

The energy board says most consumers use 64 per cent of their power during off-peak hours. During the winter months, off-peak hours are all day on weekends and holidays, and on weekdays from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Peak periods are weekdays from 7 to 11 a.m., and 5 to 7 p.m.

Ontario to review its Payday Loans Act in response to new technologies

September 12, 2013 Canadian Press

TORONTO – The provincial government says it will launch a review of the Payday Loans Act, adopted in 2008 to better protect customers.

The review is in response to technological changes in the payday loan industry.

They include the growth of online transactions, smartphone-enabled loan approvals and new forms of high-cost, short-term loans.

The review will also explore ways to track payday loans and ensure companies are compliant with existing regulations.

It will also study stronger protections for consumers against multiple loans and roll-over loans and review the maximum total cost of borrowing.

That cost is currently capped at a $21 fee for every $100 borrowed

There are more than 750 payday loan storefronts in Ontario where consumers take out an average payday loan of $300 and pay up to $63 in fees.