Increasing Income through Filing Your Taxes

The Income Security Action Group of the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force encourages everyone to file a tax return. For modest and low income Canadians, filing a tax return helps increase the number of benefits they can collect and may result in an increase in their income. Many Canadians have no idea they would get money back, and they fear being told they have to pay the government for back taxes they cannot afford.  But this is not the case for most people on low income.

Here are three good reasons to file for 2017:

  1. To qualify for programs including the Canada Child Tax Benefit, the GST/HST credit, and the Ontario Trillium Benefit, which all pay cash when you qualify.
  2. To take advantage of certain tax credits like the Working Income Tax Benefit.
  3. To recover any tax you may have overpaid from your pay cheque.
  4. If you have not applied to the Ontario Electricity Support Program  you may be missing out on a monthly benefit towards your hydro bill starting at $35.00 and upwards based on your income. A new partnership exists with the United Way of Bruce Grey and Grey Bruce Community Income Tax Clinic to apply.

A recent Community Income Tax Clinics Network meeting with Community Income Tax volunteers,  the Income Security Action Group and Community Voices examined barriers to tax filing (Prosper Canada, 2016):

  • 17% of people have insufficient access to clinics and services
  • 14% of people don’t know where to get help
  • 14% can’t afford commercial tax services
  • 12% not aware of the need to file even if they have no taxable income

The big roadblocks:

  • Poor ACCESS to affordable and relevant services.
  • Insufficient COMMUNICATIONS about the benefits of tax filing and available assistance.
  • Lack of TARGETED APPROACHES to the distinct barriers and needs of different groups.

There are some incredible volunteers that provide free tax services to people on low income all across Grey-Bruce.   But we do have challenges with transportation to clinics; people knowing where and when free clinics are being held; and people who need support to prepare paperwork for filing.

The Canadian Revenue Agency supports programs that prepare taxes for low-income Canadians through its Community Volunteer Income Tax Program.  A list of clinic dates, times and locations can be found by calling 211 or check on line at 211 Information Bruce Grey or The HealthLine.

Do you offer a free clinic? Is your community without any services? Please contact us!

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Housing is a Human Right

Canada has adopted a Rights-Based approach to its first-ever National Housing Strategy on November 22nd, 2017.  They have announced their new strategy with a $41 billion budget over the next 10 years.

In addition to existing programs,  what is new?

$15.9 billion for a National Housing Co-investment Fund 

  • $4.7 billion in financial contributions and
  • $11.2 billion in low interest loans to developers that meet certain criteria including ensuring that:
    • 30 per cent of units in a development will rent for less than 80 per cent of median market rents for at least 20 years.
    • At least a 25 per cent reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions over national building and energy codes.
    • 20 per cent of units meet accessibility standards.

$200 million Transfer of Federal Lands to housing providers on condition that they meet environmental, socioeconomic and affordability standards.

A separate Indigenous People Housing Strategy will be developed with their input.

What is the need locally? 

  • 60% of people on low-income are working
  • 20% of employees in Grey County have multiple jobs
  •  95% of all new jobs created in Ontario were part-time
  • 1 in 3 jobs in Ontario is temporary, contract, or part-time.
  • 1 in 5 children live in poverty in Ontario
  •  17% of Grey County and Bruce County children under age 17 live in poverty.
  • 21 food banks exist in Grey County and Bruce County. 16% of the population of Bruce and Grey Counties have accessed a food bank.
  • In Ontario, the average food bank client spends 70% of income on rent.
  • Waitlist for Affordable Housing in Grey County has increased by 15% in the last year. 730 families are on the wait list.

How far the budget reaches down to support our Municipal budgets for affordable housing is still to be determined.  But the Federal leadership sets the direction for budge allocations going forward!

Measuring Homelessness in Grey County and Bruce County  

Our Housing Action Group will be monitoring and reporting on developments.   Currently, our Housing Action Group are developing the program design and implementation for Ontario’s Homelessness Enumeration on April 23rd to 27th, 2018.  This will be a Point-in-Time  Rural Survey carried out in partnership with community agencies and volunteers.

The report of Ontario’s Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness (the Panel), A Place to Call Home, stated: “Over the past several decades, homelessness in Canada has been on the rise” (2015, p.7). The experience of homelessness is understood to be a severe form of deprivation for people affected by a wide range of factors over which they have no control, such as unemployment or precarious employment, challenges with finding affordable housing, and economic hardship. Further, homelessness has
unequal impacts that are linked with racialization, gender, sexual
orientation, age, ability, language, immigration status, socioeconomic
status, mental health and addictions issues, regional location, and
Indigenous identity. Learning more about the prevalence and realities of
homelessness can galvanize community stakeholders who want to
develop more effective ways of addressing it.

Read more about Grey County’s Trends and Analysis as part of its County of Grey Housing  and Homelessness Plan (2014-2024) and Bruce County’s Long-Term Housing Housing Strategy (2013-2023).

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.”

Equity and Inclusion: Community Voices engage with City of Owen Sound Council

Renee Schlonies and Tanya Butt presenting to City of Owen Sound Council on behalf of Community Voices

Two Graduates of the Getting Ahead program and Communty Voices members, Renee Schlonies and Tanya Butt asked the City of Owen Sound Council to consider the views of people on low income when making their decisions.

The Community Voices co-chairs provided a snapshot of poverty in Owen Sound. Recent political and economic conditions have contributed to the decline of full-time jobs and an increase in poverty.

  • 60% of people on low-income are working
  • 20% of employees in Grey County have multiple jobs
  • 95% of all new jobs created in Ontario were part-time
  • 1 in 3 jobs in Ontario is temporary, contract, or part-time.
  • Full-time at Minimum Wage of $11.25/hr ($23,400) falls well below
  • Ontario’s Low Income Measure:
  • $23,861 (1 person)
  • $29,706 (2 persons)
  • $36,520 (3 persons)
  • Living Wage for Owen Sound $21.01

Community Voices submitted an Equity and Inclusion for People Living in Poverty position paper to the City showing how people on low income contribute to our community, identifying barriers and inequities; and suggesting recommendations to the Council.

People who live on low income do contribute to the economy and quality of life in the city! The low income community often provides care for each other’s children and exchange food, sharing what each household has. There are networks of support, information exchanges, and some people become community advocates.  Many of those on social assistance or ODSP invest in the community by actively volunteering for community organizations.  Volunteers sustain non-profit agencies such as day-away programs, shelters and food banks. 

When we are on social assistance, we often work part-time and therefore receive reduced amount of assistance.  While social assistance is not taxed, we contribute to taxes through purchase of goods and services; and property taxes are collected from our rents. 

We participate in civil society,  advocate for equity and inclusion, and raise future leaders by educating our children.   Low income communities encourage the creation of programs that can benefit people across all income levels, by sitting on boards and committees, and by sharing stories with decisions makers. 

Our vision includes:

  • a poverty-free city is where people living in poverty are actively involved in decision-making processes at the City and in the community.
  • More affordable and well-maintained housing is available.
  • Healthy food is accessible close to where people live.
  • The City is free of financial predators that perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
  • People in Owen Sound earn wages adequate to support a healthy, active standard of living.
  • Living Wage is instituted throughout Owen Sound.
  • High quality bridging programs are accessible to people transitioning from income assistance to the paid labour force.

It is important that people living in poverty participate in solving community problems, not just their own.  Getting Ahead graduate 2013

 

OFFICIAL SUBMISSION: A FOOD POLICY FOR CANADA

In response to a call from the Government of Canada’s A Food Policy for Canada, the Food Security Action Group of the Poverty Task Force has provided an official submission to inform the national Food Policy.

The PTF’s submission on  A Food Policy for Canada_2017  is available here: Canadian Food Policy PTF Response_30 Aug 2017
Individuals, Organizations & Agencies are encouraged to provide feedback by responding to an online survey at  https://www.canada.ca/en/campaign/food-policy.html

 

Losing Ground – Income Inequality in Ontario

A new analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) – Losing Ground Income Inequality in Ontario, 2000-15  describes an increasingly “polarized” Ontario labour market that is shifting away from stable manufacturing jobs to more precarious service sector work and rewarding higher-earning families while punishing poorer ones.

The report  examines 15 years of income inequality for families raising
children in Ontario (2000 to 2015), comparing it with national data for context,
and finds several disturbing trends.

The data reveal that the top half of Ontario families take home 81 per
cent of earnings; the bottom half of families take home only 19 per cent.
What’s more, the richest families in Ontario earned almost 200 per cent of
the average family’s earnings in 2013–15.

It is a story of sustained labour market income inequality that is being
driven by slow economic growth and increases in precarious work. Simply
put, lower–middle class and working poor families are losing ground.
The Ontario data show a drop in the share of earnings for families in the
bottom half, falling from 22 per cent in 2000–02 to 19 per cent in 2013–15.
That income shifted from the bottom half to the top half of the income distribution:
the top half’s share of earnings rose from 78 per cent in 2000–02
to 81 per cent in 2013–15.

On a national level, the story of income inequality among Canadian families
hasn’t changed much since 2000. The lion’s share of earnings goes to
the richest families, at the expense of the rest. Nationally, families in the
bottom half of the earnings distribution saw their share of earnings flatline
at 21 per cent between 2000–02 and 2013–15.

Dynamics within the labour market are at issue. The experience since the turn of the century clearly indicates that Ontario needs a raise. And that proposed changes to labour market rules in the province’s Bill 148 (Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017)—which among other crucial reforms would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 2019—are long overdue.

It’s about fairness. It’s about changing labour laws to reflect a seismic
shift in Ontario’s labour market. It’s about requiring employers to do their
part to reduce labour market inequality.

 

 

Fighting poverty with food security

 

Public Health Dietician Laura Needham (left) and Jill Umbach, Planning Network Coordinator with Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force, discussed food security issues with Saugeen Shores councillors at their July 24 meeting. Councillors were asked to consider endorsing a Bruce Grey Food Charter to create a just, sustainable and secure food system.  

For the past four years the Grey Bruce Poverty Task Force – politicians, 51 social agencies and community-based partners – have examined the root causes of poverty and identified barriers to change.

One of the main issues is food security – having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, appropriate and nutritious food – supported by a Food Charter that values health, social justice, culture, education, sustainable economic development and the environment.

Jill Umbach, Planning Network Coordinator with Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force, and Public Health Dietician Laura Needham asked councillors to consider endorsing the Food Charter, which acknowledges the basic right to food, and is a commitment to work to towards a “vibrant, sustainable, food secure community,” Councillors were also asked to reconsider the way they “treat people who don’t have food.”

She said the 21 food banks in Grey Bruce do not address the main cause of food insecurity, so they need to change the “cultural way that we treat people who don’t have food,” so food banks aren’t the “go-to place for people with low income.”

“Rather than looking at a charitable situation all the time… we want those people to actually access other systems – whether it is connecting with fresh produce from a farmer that’s got excess, or whether its connecting to community gardens that are good for mental health but [where they] also can access fresh food….” Umbach said.

Food banks are still needed for crisis back-up, but Umbach said low-income people need better access to food that involves them more in the food system, including community gardens and school snack programs.

Coun. Mike Myatt said the 17 per cent poverty rate for those under-19 in Grey Bruce “struck a chord” and asked the source of the statistic and if the number was broken down further to give a Saugeen shores number.

Umbach said it was Census Canada data estimating that in Saugeen Shores, the average rate would be 14 to 17 per cent because the economy is stronger in Bruce than in Grey County. After the meeting Umbach said the 17 per cent figure represents the number of people under 19 in a family of four with annual income less than $42,000.

Coun. Neil Menage asked if people could legally give away surplus food – he’d had to compost an over-abundant crop of grapes. Umbach said it is “totally acceptable” noting there are Second Harvest programs and they are all noted on a food asset map. Menage also suggested they could develop community gardens in local passive parks.

Saugeen Shores Coun. Dave Myette thanked Umbach and Needham for “planting the seeds” to develop food security, and said he’d bring a motion to endorse the Food Charter at the future town council meeting.

In related news…

Umbach said the first Grey Bruce Poverty Task Force, Bridges Out of Poverty program – Getting Ahead –  holds its first sessions in Port Elgin,  starting on August 14 at the Community Housing Centre.

The program offers people receiving Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program benefits, an eight-week program that looks at generational and situational poverty and looks at the resources available for low-income people in the community to deal with housing, transportation and social issues. Anyone interested should contact their worker for a referral. She said some of the graduates of the Port Elgin Bridges Out of Poverty program would be invited to speak to Saugeen Shores Council at a future date about their experiences.

A Rise in Living Wage in 2017

The United Way of Bruce Grey updated its Living Wage Rate 2017. It found that in 2017, a family of three consisting of a single parent, a 15-year-old and an eight-year-old would need the sole earner to work 40 hours a week making $21.01 an hour to get by.

The rate was last updated in 2015, using 2014 data. Housing costs have significantly increased total household costs. The average rent across Ontario is now $1,115 and the United Way has found that many rental units in Bruce Grey are priced over the $1,000 threshold.

The rate has been updated by the United Way Bruce Grey at a time when the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force and partners are engaged in discussions about Ontario’s minimum wage being raised to $15 an hour.

In May 2017, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government announced its plans to raise the minimum wage from its current $11.40 to $14 on Jan. 1, 2018 and $15 on Jan. 1, 2019.  The change has been welcome by some economists and the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force who say it can help the economy by increasing people’s ability to get by and be better consumers in local economies.

The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017   (Bill 148) proposes important changes to address Ontario’s outdated labour laws and seeks to reduce precarious work.  The proposed legislation, which also includes equal pay for part-time workers, increased vacation entitlements and expanded personal emergency leave, started committee hearings on July 17th that are traveling across the province.

On July 17th, the City of Owen Sound Council approved a motion to request the government carry out an economic impact study of the increase in minimum wage within 2 years. On July 21st,  the Owen Sound and District Chamber of Commerce held a town hall meeting on the issue, held in conjunction with the Keep Ontario Working Coalition.  The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force and its partners were at both discussions.  David McLaren shared  ON Labour Reform Facts on Need  for a $15/hr minimum wage which references 7 decades of economic impact studies of raising the minimum wage.

With the increase in a living wage, this educates people on why the United Way Bruce Grey and other organizations are in favour of the wage increase.  The FairWorkplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 goes beyond cathcing up with the rising costs of living in Ontario and address practices of precarious work that are the new norm in the workplace.

Living Wage Rate 2017

Grey Bruce Online Food Map is Launched; Targets Hunger and Waste Reduction

The Food Security Action Group (FSAG) has launched a Bruce Grey Food Assets Map. The map will help to connect organizations and businesses looking to build better food security throughout the region.

Currently, the Food Assets Map includes programs and initiatives like community gardens, community meals, food banks, food education, good food boxes, meal delivery services, student nutrition programs, and other support services. Food businesses on the map include farmers’ markets, distributors, grocers, producers, processors, restaurants and cafés. The map also captures food system infrastructure assets such as dry and cold storage, commercial kitchens and transportation opportunities.

Are you part of the food system in Grey Bruce? If so, FSAG wants you on the map. Individuals and groups may submit new assets for the map using a crowd-source form hosted by Grey County.

Over the next few months, FSAG will use mapped resources to engage partners in a Grey Bruce Food Gleaning project. Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover foods that would otherwise go to waste and connecting those foods to people in need. According to a 2014 Value Chain Management Centre report, Canadians waste a staggering $31 billion in food every year. Food gleaning can play a role in reducing food waste and its impacts, producing social, environmental and economic benefits.

The map was developed in partnership with Grey County GIS Mapping Services following a survey and interviews with food security programs and services. The Food Security Action Group is a branch of the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force.

Community members are encouraged to connect with Jaden Calvert of FSAG to help populate the map or to contribute to regional food gleaning projects:  jaden.calvert@gmail.com.

For technical issues with the map, contact Grey County GIS at gisdesk@grey.ca.  Please reference Bruce, Grey, Food Asset Map.

Link to map: http://grey.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=a70b87bc334846638b8d738ab26fced9

Link to map form: http://grey.maps.arcgis.com/apps/GeoForm/index.html?appid=ed0501c109e7401eb1f0f262a51dac17

Ontario Releases Basic Income Consultation Feedback

Province Moving Forward with Pilot Program in 2017

Ontario is releasing a report that summarizes the feedback gathered from thousands of people across the province on how to design and deliver a basic income pilot.

Basic income is a payment to eligible families or individuals that ensures a minimum income level. It is designed to help people meet their basic needs while supporting long-term social and economic prosperity and security for everyone.

More than 35,000 people and organizations shared their ideas on a range of topics including who should be eligible for a basic income, which communities to include, how a basic income should be delivered and how the pilot should be evaluated, during the consultations.

Consultation feedback supports a basic income pilot that:

  • Includes Ontario residents aged 18-64 living in socially and economically diverse communities, in urban, rural and northern locations
  • Helps people living on low incomes meet their basic needs
  • Lifts people out of poverty, with long-term improvements in health, employment and housing.

The consultations help build on the advice the government received from the Honourable Hugh Segal in his discussion paper.

The province continues to engage with First Nations, urban Indigenous, Métis and Inuit communities to ensure their unique perspectives are heard and to tailor a culturally appropriate approach that reflects their advice.

All input received through the consultation process is being considered as the government works to introduce a plan for Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot in spring 2017.

Exploring new ways to help people living in poverty reach their full potential is part of the government’s plan to create jobs, grow the economy and help people in their everyday lives.

Quick Facts

  • Between November 3, 2016 and January 31, 2017, about 1,200 participants attended 14 public consultations held in communities across Ontario. Over 34,000 people completed the online survey. Written submissions were received from more than 80 community organizations and groups with expertise and experience in fighting poverty.
  • The province is looking to create a pilot that would test how a basic income might benefit people living in a variety of low income situations, including those who are currently working.
  • Finland launched a guaranteed income pilot in January 2017 and the Netherlands and Kenya are also looking at developing pilot projects that test the idea of a basic or guaranteed annual income.
  • Y-Combinator, a California technology company has announced it will be piloting a basic income project that is expected to run for five years.

Additional Resources