Poverty Task Force/United Way Community Update # 22

Dear Colleagues, 

For many of us, the majority of our work involves navigating social support systems with people to ensure access. At the Poverty Task Force, our work involves identifying and addressing systemic barriers. 

Some days, it feels like the system is a series of holes that are getting deeper for people to climb out of.  No matter how hard people dig and how many shovels we give them – they have to dig deeper to get out of one hole only to have another hole open up next to them. For example, we welcomed the income support of CERB but we and anti-poverty groups are now worrying about repayment by people who may find themselves ineligible. 

  • The Perth-Huron Social Research and Planning Council has released a discussion paper, “Making a Livable Income: The Next Layer of Protection”. The paper promotes and discusses the practicalities of a Universal Basic Income. The paper highlights that “rural areas and small towns would also be the biggest winners economically, from a Basic Income because small towns and rural regions would see the largest stimulus effects of a Basic Income.”
  • The United Way of Bruce Grey has released the numbers for its Utility Assistance Program. Despite not being able to meet with clients from mid March, 2020 and an extended utilities disconnection ban through to July 31st, there wasn’t a significant decline in the number of households seeking support. 
  • The Meeting Place in Tobermory is a ‘community hub’ providing a unique blend of rural social support to those who may be in stressful situations, are isolated or need system navigation. In their recent Annual Report, they reported they have seen a significant increase in clients under COVID19. 
  • The Community Connector expressed her concerns “that many people collecting CERB have not put away some of their benefits to pay the tax on it come next tax season …  Many clients, and myself, are concerned with what will happen come fall. With the late start to the season, what will EI look like? The majority of clients rely on EI for income, and barely get enough hours to collect benefits for 4-5 months. Will they even qualify this year? If they do, will it run out in February?”   

INCOME SUPPORTS 

Under COVID19, the government announced a ban on disconnects for natural gas and electricity for non-payments.  As of August 4th, 2020,the utility disconnect ban will end.  

  • Customers who were behind in payments prior to March 2020 will be targeted for disconnection first. They should expect collection activities and disconnection orders to be issued.  
  • The United Way of Bruce Grey has pulled together an update on the rules and processes to be followed on utility disconnections. (See Attached) along with other supports.
  • Call 211 for eligibility criteria and how to apply to various utility support programs.    
    • LEAP (Low-Income Energy Assistance Program) will open again when the disconnection ban ends.  This assistance is only available if you are behind on your bill payment and may be facing a service disconnection. 
    • CEAP (COVID19 Energy Assistance Program) is available to customers who 1) have an account in good standing on March 17th, 2020, 2) failed to make full payment on at least 2 bills issued since March 17th, 2020, 3) have an overdue balance on the date of their application to CEAP and 4) have not received any LEAP or OESP funding in 2020. 
  • Canada Child Benefit:  starting in July 2020, the maximum annual Canada Child Benefit will increase to keep pace with the cost of living.  CCB is based on a family’s income from the previous year and is tax-free.  That means: 
    • up to $6,765 per child under age 6 
    • and up to $5,708 per child age 6 through 17
  • Disability payment: a one time tax free, non-reportable payment of $600 will be distributed to people with disabilities and their families as they face new costs and navigate challenges due to COVID-19.    The one-time disability payment — which originally was only going to benefit Canadians who qualify for the federal disability tax credit — will now also go to those receiving disability benefits through the Canada Pension Plan, the Quebec Pension Plan and Veterans Affairs Canada.  
  • Wage Subsidy – The Federal Government passed legislation (C-10) that makes changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. The changes include changing eligibility to expand the number of businesses eligible, changes the amount companies can put toward their worker’s wages, and extends the program to the end of the year.  

TRANSPORTATION SUPPORTS

Stay well, Jill 

Dobbyn happy with long-term energy plan

The head of the local United Way says there’s good news for low-income families in the provincial Liberal government’s Long-Term Energy Plan. The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force also submitted suggestions for the energy blueprint in October 2016.

Denis Langlois of the Sun Times Owen Sound wrote the following article on Friday, October 27th regarding the release of the Long-Term Energy Plan.

The document reconfirms measures in Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan – which reduced residential electricity bills by 25 per cent on average this summer – including the promise to hold any increases to the rate of inflation for four years.

“That’s really good. It means that families can budget, they’re not going to see big jumps,” Francesca Dobbyn, executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey, said in an interview.

“It also holds the utility companies accountable in that they have to work within their own budgets rather than going, ‘Hey we’d like to go do this or we’d like to try that.’ It puts the onus back on the utility companies for them to also manage their costs because they’re not going to get the raises in rates.”

Dobbyn said she was invited by the Ministry of Energy to the launch of the Long-Term Energy Plan in Toronto because of the work the local United Way has done in the past to assist the province with its efforts to make electricity more affordable.

Dobbyn said one of the plan’s most significant new initiatives – which the United Way advocated for – is the one that will enable the Ontario Energy Board to both increase its oversight of sub-metering companies, which meter and send bills to residents in multi-residential buildings for the energy they consume, and bring in new consumer protection measures.

About 326,000 apartment and condominium units in Ontario use sub-meters, also known as suite meters, and Dobbyn said the new oversight will be especially beneficial to low-income residents that reside in those units.

“This is really important for us because we have suite meters in Owen Sound for sure, the 28th Street apartments for example, where tenants pay their own hydro bills. And the OEB right now only has control to the meter to the building, they don’t have any regulations about what happens inside the building. So we have companies that charge $25 a month if you haven’t paid off the previous bill in terms of a fee for carrying a balance, which is really hard on low-income people,” she said.

“They’re also not wrapped up in any moratorium on disconnections so they were disconnecting people in March of last year.”

As a result of the Fair Hydro Plan, the updated Long-Term Energy Plan says electricity prices are forecast to remain below the level projected in the previous energy blueprint from 2013.

For example, the province says, the previous plan forecast that typical residential monthly electricity bills would reach $200 in 2027, but the new plan projects the cost to be about $19 less.

The plan also says electricity rates will rise gradually, by an average of about five per cent annually from 2021 to 2027.

“The significance of that, again, is the predictability of it,” Dobbyn said.

The Long-Term Energy Plan includes several initiatives that the province says will assist with its commitment to avoid sharp increases in electricity costs.

They include a promise to maximize the use of Ontario’s existing energy assets and only securing new power when it’s needed.

Bruce Power says the plan reiterates the importance of its life-extension program, which will see the site near Tiverton provide “low-cost, carbon-free and reliable electricity” through 2064.

In a statement, Mike Rencheck, Bruce Power’s president and CEO, said it is important to have stable government policy in place so Bruce Power can make long-term investments to secure low-cost electricity for families and businesses.

“We are encouraged by the trust the government continues to have in Bruce Power to provide over 30 per cent of Ontario’s electricity at 30 per cent less than the average cost to generate residential power, while producing zero carbon emissions,” Rencheck said. “Our life-extension program, which began on Jan. 1, 2016, is on time and on budget, and continues to boost Ontario’s economy in every corner of the province.”

Bruce Power says the plan also recognizes the electricity company’s other attributes, including its production of medical isotopes.

Bruce Power says its investment programs and operations create and sustain 22,000 jobs directly and indirectly each year, while injecting $4 billion into the economy annually.

Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, in a statement about the Long-Term Energy Plan, said “despite Liberal spin,” electricity rates will continue to skyrocket to the highest they’ve ever been after next year’s provincial election.

He also mentioned a special report by Ontario’s auditor general, which said the provincial government created “an unnecessary, complex financing structure to keep the true financial impact of most of its 25 per cent electricity-rate reduction off the province’s books.” The report said the Fair Hydro Plan could cost Ontarians up to $4 billion more than necessary in interest costs over the next 30 years.

Brown said: “The Wynne Liberals are untrustworthy, especially when it comes to Ontarians’ electricity bills. Every single time they’ve played games with the electricity sector it has left families working harder, paying more, and getting less.

“The 2017 LTEP (Long-Term Energy Plan) does not show the real costs of their ‘unfair’ hydro scheme. It is nothing but a Wynne Liberal re-election campaign document that does nothing to calm the nerves of families worried about their future.”

Wait time is three years minimum in Grey County

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Monday, November 18, 2013 6:44:12 EST PM

The hundreds of people who are on waiting lists for an affordable housing unit in Grey-Bruce are, in most cases, living in crisis mode, say local advocates for low-income residents.

Unaffordable rent costs force people to take drastic measures to scrape by, say Jill Umbach, planning co-ordinator for the Bruce-Grey Poverty Task Force, and Francesca Dobbyn, executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey.

“It’s crisis management for the family,” Umbach said in an interview.

“You’re juggling and juggling and you hope you don’t drop the balls because it will seriously impact your family.”

Some people on the waiting list can pay market rent prices, but do so by cutting from other basic needs, like food, utilities and medication, they say. Some may have their heat or hydro disconnected after bills fall into arrears or must move every few months as they fall further behind on rent and are evicted.

Others may be living in unsafe, substandard units or in remote areas — where rent is cheaper but where transportation is a problem — until a unit opens up, they say.

“People are making awful choices,” said Colleen Purdon, an Owen Sound councillor and longtime social advocate.

She said some people on the waiting list may move out of Grey-Bruce and to an area where affordable housing is available.

“I think we’re losing people because we don’t have affordable housing,” she said.

Nearly 110 seniors, 77 adults and 23 families are on the waiting list for an affordable housing unit in Bruce County.

Grey County has 139 seniors, 300 individuals/couples and 127 families in their queue.

The waiting time in Grey County is at least three years.

The Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, in its annual report on wait times, said there are more applications for affordable units now than ever before.

The average market rent in Owen Sound is $554 for a bachelor apartment, $686 for a one-bedroom unit and $827 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Rent is higher in Saugeen Shores and Kincardine.

The CMHC says a family should be spending 30% or less of their gross monthly income on shelter and utilities to ensure there is enough money for food, transportation, clothing and other essentials.

There are two kinds of affordable housing units: geared-to-income, where rent is calculated at 30% of a tenant’s gross monthly income; and apartments where the shelter costs are 20% below market rent.

A single parent, making $10.25 an hour, earns about $1,776 a month before taxes, which puts the cost of rent, even for a bachelor apartment, over the 30% threshold. Ontario Works recipients receive a maximum shelter allowance each month of $376 for a single person and $648 for a family of three, which is 78% of the average cost for a two-bedroom unit.

Umbach said some people are spending 65% to 95% of their income on shelter and utility costs.

Dobbyn said she is not surprised by the demand for affordable housing units in the region.

“It’s an additional symptom of the precarious work in our economy,” she said.

The local United Way made a submission in October to the Ministry of Labour’s review of the province’s minimum wage, which has been frozen at $10.25 an hour since 2010.

The agency prepared budgets, based on a single parent with an eight-year-old and 15-year-old child, and determined the “living” minimum wage should be $13.21 in Owen Sound or $15.11 in rural Grey-Bruce where transportation costs are higher. A “living wage” would allow the family to cover basic needs, including shelter/utility costs at $993 a month, as well as items that allow for “fuller participation in society,” such as school-related costs, telephone and Internet, swimming lessons and a vacation.

Purdon said to boost the number of affordable housing units, municipalities and others should be putting more heat on the federal government to create a national affordable housing strategy.

She said municipalities, like Owen Sound, should have conversations about policies or incentives to encourage developers to include affordable units in their housing projects.

Dobbyn said it is important to address the stereotypes surrounding affordable housing, so mixed neighbourhoods, with some social units, are welcomed.

Provincially, 158,500 households were on a waiting list for geared-to-income units in December 2012. The average wait time was 3.2 years.

The waiting lists in both Grey and Bruce counties shrunk from 2012 to 2013, although wait times have remained virtually the same.