Task Force Blog

Poverty Task Force/United Way Community Update # 23

Dear Colleagues, 

COVID19 pandemic has created more opportunities for reflection on the work that we do and it has certainly promoted discussions at all levels of government and across Ministries; and with nongovernmental agencies. Together everyone is working to find solutions to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.  

Mohammad Karamouzian who is a member of the Trudeau Foundation COVID19 Impact Committeewrites that COVID19 is not a “great equalizer” but it has exposed a range of pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequities in our communities.  He recommends that solutions being found now should not disappear after the pandemic subsides. 

  • The federal government announced today that it will transition recipients of the CERB to the Employment Insurance (EI) program this fall.  It was also announced the Federal government will also create a “transitional, parallel benefit” that is similar to EI for people who don’t qualify for the unemployment benefit, such as contract and gig workers.  
  • The Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives released its Alternative Federal Budget Recovery Plan.  Attached are some chapters from the Plan on poverty, gender equality, racial equality and housing.
  • The Institute for Gender and the Economy at the Rotman School of Management and YWCA Canada co-wrote A Feminist Recovery Plan for Canada that outlines 8 recommendations for how to make the economy work for everyone. They also have an engaging website: https://www.feministrecovery.ca/.  

INCOME SUPPORTS

  • Schools Reopening: The Ontario government has announced that children/youth will be back to school full-time in September.
  • CERB Payment:  The last scheduled CERB pay period is set to end on Sept. 26.  
  • CERB Repayment: Any Ontario Works or ODSP clients who have received CERB/CESB benefits, and are later notified that they have been found to be ineligible for those benefits, are advised to contact their caseworker as the treatment of these situations are unique to individual circumstances.  
  • The CRA does usually garnish CPP, OAS, HST, etc. if there are debts owing to the federal government, however, the CRA is currently not garnishing any federal income sources. ie Disability Tax Credit one-time payment or OAS. 
  • Recipients who were not eligible are asked to repay as much as possible before December 31st, 2020. The CRA will discuss repayment plans with recipients. These can be as low as $25 a month. 
  • Anyone with questions about their CERB/CESB eligibility is advised to contact the CRA directly, or visit their website for information on how to return the CERB/CESB benefits. 
  • Income Tax filing, payment and benefits:  the CRA is now reporting that some Canadians will face payment delays if the CRA can’t process their 2019 returns before the beginning of September. 
  • For late-filers, the CRA has been using 2018 tax-year information to calculate the CCB and GST/HST credit amounts for July, August and September. But those payments could stop in October 2020 if the CRA doesn’t receive a 2019 return by September 30th, 2020. 
  • Some people may have to repay the CCB and HST/GST credits they received for July, August, and September if they do not file by September 30th.
  • Community Volunteer Income Tax Clinics – If you are running a CVITP, please ensure your information is up to date with 211.  Free Income Tax Clinics 2020 are listed on 211. 
  • Grey County Social Services has relocated its Markdale Ontario Works satellite office to the South East Grey Community Health Centre.   
  • Grey County Ontario Works services continue to be delivered remotely and program recipients should contact their regular caseworker.  New applicants should call 519-376-7324 or apply online.  

ORGANIZATIONAL SUPPORTS 

  • The YMCA has created a new video: Dealing with Difficult People under COVID19 conditions. This short video aims to assist employees to develop strategies for handling situations that arise when implementing new health and safety protocols  such as wearing face coverings, physical distancing, hand sanitizing etc.  
  • PPE: Bruce County businesses can now apply for a grant of $1,500 to offset the cost of COVID-19 safety supplies; a total of $250,000 is available. Details are attached. 

FOOD SECURITY SUPPORTS 

  • Community Food Programs in Grey Bruce are working through the summer to grow food, deliver meals and food baskets.
  • The United Way of Bruce Grey has granted $390,000 in Emergency Community Support Grants.  
  • Close to 700 meals were distributed by mid-July by the YUM Program out of South East Grey Community Health Centre. 525 meals in June.
  • Habitat for Humanity will continue to deliver supplies, meals and produce until the end of December 2020.
  • The Salvation Army Owen Sound has distributed $12,900 in gift cards to clients to ensure that non-Christian clients can purchase appropriate meat based on religious practices. The Salvation Army Owen Sound continues to share surplus food with all food banks. 
  • Many food banks and kitchens have received Emergency Community Support Funds to increase their capacity with new equipment such as freezers. 
  • Several new initiatives were funded including the Community Garden Network and Community Living Peninsula Food Security Project to improve the flow of fresh produce to food banks and community meal programs. 
  • The YMCA summer camps have received $6,000 in funds to distribute $25 gift cards to parents to send lunches. 
  • M’Wikwedong staff are supporting clients to access $150 food cards from Nawash program with applications to be completed by August 31st, 2020.

HOUSING SUPPORTS

  • With low vacancy rates, wait lists for housing and complex cases involving homelessness, mental health and substance misuse housing workers are challenged to find lasting solutions. In the first half of July, the YMCA housed 20 people and provided 234 nights of shelter to 45 people. 
  • The Grey Bruce Public Health issued an overdose alert after receiving confirmation from county paramedic services of 6 opioid poisonings within 5 days across the Grey-Bruce region. 
  • Wellness checks continue with the OPP, CMHA and YMCA Housing on tent encampments. 
  • Bill 184 was passed and there are concerns about the impact on tenants when the eviction ban is lifted.  

TRANSPORTATION SUPPORTS

  • Grey County Transit Route (GTR): announced it is negotiating with Driverseat to run its new service.  Grey County’s plan is to launch its Highway 10 route at the start of September, followed by its Highway 26 route in mid-September, its Highway 6 route in early October and its Grey Road 4 route in early to mid-October.

ANTI-RACISM

Stay well, Jill 

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 

Poverty Task Force/United Way Community Update # 21

Dear Colleagues, 

Be kind!” is the message coming from the Grey Bruce Health Unit this week as we move to Stage 3 of reopening and the mandatory use of masks.  I have attached a few new posters created by the Grey Bruce Health Unit Communications Team regarding masks. #strongertogetherGB

  • Concerned about what ‘reopening’ means for area charities and non-profits? Have questions? Want answers?  There will be a moderated Q & A call with Dr. Arra for Not-for-Profits and Charity organizations on July 28th, 1:30-3:00pm in which Dr. Arra.    
  • Please register here and ask your burning questions in advance!  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CWWGW3R

A morning smile is the announcement by the Ontario government of proposed  changes that would provide additional protection for payday loan borrowers by capping interest rates and fees on defaulted loans, ensuring that workers and families who use payday loan services can keep more of their hard-earned money. The changes were included in the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020 and will be amendments to the Payday Loans Act, 2008. 

  • Lenders would not be permitted to charge interest in excess of 2.5 per cent per month (non-compounded), providing rate relief to borrowers unable to repay their loans on time.  
  • A maximum fee of $25 that may be charged by lenders for dishonoured or bounced cheques or pre-authorized debits.  

INCOME SUPPORTS

  • ODSP will send information about CERB reporting and how it will impact ODSP monthly payments to all ODSP recipients who reported CERB. Income from CERB is treated similarly to how earnings are treated under ODSP. The amount of the CERB that is deducted from ODSP depends on the situation of the person receiving it. For individuals under 18 or in full-time secondary or postsecondary school, CERB is fully exempt, meaning that it does not get deducted from ODSP payments. For everyone else, the CERB is partially exempt: The first $200 received in a month is fully exempt and a 50 per cent exemption will apply for each additional dollar, no matter the total amount of CERB payments collected.
  • ODSP Grey Bruce’s hours are changing: effective August 4, 2020, service delivery hours will return to regular hours of 8:30am-5:00pm, from the current hours of 10:00 am– 2:00pm. 
  • This is not a return to regular client services.  Existing health and safety measures related to COVID-19 continue to be followed. Clients will continue to be served via secure methods such as over the phone, via intercom and in secure rooms. They will limit the number of face to face interactions with clients to where it is necessary to ensure client service.
  • new report by Statistics Canada outlines how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted Indigenous respondents. 36% of Indigenous respondents reported that the pandemic had a “strong or moderate” impact on their ability to pay for essentials while 25% of non-indigenous respondents reported the same. Despite experiencing higher levels of hardship, fewer indigenous respondents reported applying for government support. 
  • Recent polling by the Native Women’s Association of Canada found that Indigenous women are experiencing greater financial difficulties (46%) than other Canadians (34%) and the financial impact of COVID-19 closely correlated to rates of domestic violence against Indigenous women.
  • The Senate Finance Committee urged the Federal Government to work with Provincial, Territorial, and Indigenous Governments to “give full, fair and priority consideration” to a Basic Income in their COVID-19 Relief in times of Crisis report.

HOUSING SUPPORTS

  • A recent article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal takes an equity-informed perspective on emerging trends and interventions to reduce the impact of COVID on those experiencing homelessness. 

Recently, Tamarack hosted a cross-country rural communities and housing discussion and some of the highlights of the discussion were:

  • Funding – Emergency funding for sheltering people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic has demonstrated how quickly things can change when there is political will. Once funding for COVID-19 is gone, the solutions that were developed will likely not be sustainable. 
  • Short-term solutions – Many who were homeless prior to the pandemic are now being temporarily housed in hotels and motels. While there have been some benefits to this intervention, there is widespread recognition that this is a short-term solution and not permanent housing. There are concerns about long-term availability at motels/hotels as communities open up for tourism and concerns around how long government funding will last. 
  • Wrap around services – Food delivery programs, transportation assistance, internet and cell phone distribution, wellness checks, and mental health and addictions support have been an important element that has been coupled with housing responses during the pandemic. 
  • Housing supply – Lack of affordable housing stock in rural communities continues to be a major barrier in providing long-term solutions, even when funding is available for wrap around services such as mental health supports. 
  • Collaboration – Partnerships around housing and homelessness have improved since the onset of the pandemic. There is hope these new collaborations will be sustained into the future. 
  • Data – There is a need for more data to get an accurate picture of housing and homelessness in rural communities. Point-in-time counts prior to the pandemic may no longer be accurate. 
  • Recovery planning – Housing is not seen as a key focus of most COVID-19 recovery plans. Members are seeing plans being developed at provincial and federal levels rather than local or regional levels.

In Grey County and Bruce County, housing and homelessness remain important priorities.  A July 9th, 2020 report to Council reported on the County’s work, partnerships and next steps. The full report is attached. 


Stay well, Jill 

Poverty Task Force/United Way Community Update # 20

people wearing face masks
Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

Dear Colleagues, 

A friend posted on Facebook this morning: “Everyone take a deep breath……remember the big picture……we are healthy. Stay safe and loving.” ️

We have passed the 100 day mark.  We remain healthy due to the hard work of many in Grey Bruce.  But just as we have become comfortable with lockdown rules we now start to open up public settings and this brings more questions and concerns; and new protocols.  

As we re-open public settings, it is more difficult to maintain physical distance at all times. The Grey Bruce Health Unit has announced that we shall be moving to mandatory masks in indoor public spaces when the Province moves to Stage 3 on July 17th.  During a Housing Action Group meeting last week it was felt that we  all need to normalize the use of masks and change our language around social distancing. We need to be “physically distanced but socially connected”.  

Organizations and businesses in Grey and Bruce Counties may be able to provide masks for no cost based on donations. 

  • For example, Bruce Power has donated 120,000 one-time masks to local organizations including Chambers of Commerce and Community Food Programs to ensure organizations can stay open or re-open. 
  • In addition, over July and August, the company will distribute 30,000 re-usable masks through all employees, pensioners and a range of community organizations to support the need for masks in the community.
  • Bruce Power is also launching a program called ‘Strength in Numbers’ where it will offer organizations its bulk buying power so smaller organizations have access to this lower pricing. For organizations that are looking for information on these they can email info@brucepower.com   
  • To support business-owners, workers and the economic recovery of the province, the Ontario government has launched a website to provide businesses with information on personal protective equipment (PPE) suppliers. The Workplace PPE Supplier Directory has an up-to-date list of Ontario companies and business associations that are ready to supply personal protective equipment.

INCOME SUPPORTS 

The COVID-19 crisis has made clear the importance of a robust social safety net; and it has also highlighted its weaknesses. Many people with disabilities have compromised immune systems, and are therefore at higher risk from and have already been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus. 

  • For these people, physical distancing and other preventative measures will probably be in place for a long time – much longer than for the general population. Further, it is already apparent that people with low incomes have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic. A stable and well-functioning social support system for people with disabilities in financial need will be crucial during and after the crisis.
  • new report by Maytree explores the role of ODSP, the risks of narrowing the definition of disability, models of disability assessment from other jurisdictions, and alternative ways that the government could reform the program. The report recommends that the Ministry focus on improving ODSP’s initial application process. A simplified assessment system would save time and money for applicants, medical professionals, legal clinics, adjudicators, and the Social Benefits Tribunal. These savings should be reinvested back into social assistance.  

New funding announcements: 

  • The Ontario government announced it is providing municipalities and urban Indigenous community partners with an additional $150 million to continue to protect vulnerable people from COVID-19 by improving homeless shelters and creating opportunities for longer-term housing. This investment more than doubles the funding currently flowing to local municipal service managers and urban Indigenous program administrators through the Social Services Relief Fund.  
  • Municipalities and urban Indigenous community partners will be able to use this funding for long-term, innovative housing solutions resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak. They can renovate shelters or purchase new facilities that will help with physical distancing in the short term and support longer-term, more sustainable solutions to homelessness. In addition, this funding could also be used to provide vulnerable people with food, shelter and supplies.  This builds on the support being delivered as part of the COVID-19 Action Plan to Protect Vulnerable Ontarians.  
  • The Federal government distributed to seniors a one-time tax-free payment of $300 for seniors eligible for the Old Age Security (OAS) pension, with an additional $200 for seniors eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) last week. 
  • The Province is accepting applications for the Seniors Community Grant Program until August 7, 2020. Non-profit organizations, local services boards, and Indigenous groups can apply for grants ranging from $1,000 to $100,000 to develop programming that reduces social isolation, promotes seniors’ safety and well-being, improves financial security and makes communities more age-friendly. 
  • CERB is being considered income and will impact eligibility for the Guaranteed Income Supplement for Seniors with low-income. It will also impact geared-to-income rental calculations. 
  • Students who graduated high school in 2020 are eligible for the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit. Make sure to check your eligibility at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/benefits/emergency-student-benefit/cesb-who-apply.html. Students can apply for previous pay periods by calling the CRA to ensure their information on file is correct and up to date. Students will then call the CERB/CESB line at 1-800-959-2019 or 1-800-959-2041 to apply. 
  • For those students receiving Employment Insurance (EI), if you receive a COVID-19 related grant, this should be reported on your EI report on question 6. You need to then call 1-800-206-7218 (EI line) to tell an agent that it is grant money.  The grant should not affect the amount of EI payment that is being received. Call from a landline if possible, as wait times can be significant.

CHILDCARE SUPPORTSWe know that a critical aspect of re-opening and returning to work is childcare for working parents. 

  • new paper and policy brief  by First Policy Response makes the case for child care’s role in recovery, arguing that the future of our labour force rests on building accessible, affordable childcare. 
  • Several local news articles interview local child care providers on the challenges with re-opening. There is a great appreciation expressed  but  for those child care providers currently operating. Local providers are experiencing low registration now and must maintain low ratios (8 children: 2 adults). Calls for a stabilization plan for childcare is being asked of the government to ensure the viability of childcare centres.  
  • Parents are directed to register with One List Bruce County  or One List Grey County.  

HOUSING SUPPORTS 

  • A new report from the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network explores evidence on the unique causes, consequences, and experiences of homelessness and housing precarity for this group. 
  • The Women’s Centre Grey Bruce is still running at 50% capacity to ensure physical distancing and all new residents must quarantine. 15 families are being housed. However, off site housing in motels and second stage housing is being used. 
  • The Welcome Centre in Owen Sound is now closed. An average of 8 people were participating on a regular basis. People were able to socialize and access services but still stay physically distanced.
  • YMCA Housing provided 676 nights of emergency shelter to 73 individuals; provided 938 meals and distributed 12 phones in June. In July, they started working with 32 HHs.  They are working with complex cases, very low vacancy rates across Grey Bruce and are supporting some people to return to their home communities.  Support to various tent encampments, upon request. 
  • CMHA Housing Connections currently have 125 people waiting for housing and support; 25 people waiting for Portable Housing Benefit. They are resuming group support services in Owen Sound and Hanover with smaller than normal groups. 
  • Tenant education continues to ensure that tenants keep numbers low who are visiting or staying with them. Better security at street entrances and dealing with a large number of visitors to buildings is something to address with partners and landlords.  
  • Having access to safe, affordable and decent housing is the backbone of a COVID-19 response & recovery. The federal government’s National Housing Strategy, developed and implemented in a pre-COVID-19 scenario will need to be revisited to account for the pandemic.  There is still a need for more funding for a Housing First model to be in place for people who have experienced homelessness. It takes people at least 3 years to feel safe and living in a ‘home”.  We are challenged in Grey Bruce to have support staff in place to provide long-term support across a wide geographic area and low tenancy turnover/vacancies. 
  • The Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act (Bill 184) has passed second reading at Queen’s Park and is now before a legislative committee.  The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario has published a statement on why it is the Wrong Bill at the Wrong Time stating that this will allow for more evictions.  Advocates for landlords state that it does not go far enough for them to collect payments.  

INTERNET SUPPORTS 

  • The Senate of Canada has released its Interim Observations on the Federal government’s Pandemic Response. They heard evidence that the impact of COVID-19 is not the same in urban areas as it is in rural areas. Members were told that closures of some services and delayed reopening in certain jurisdictions are more difficult on vulnerable population groups in rural areas than in more populated regions, and that lack of equitable access to high-speed Internet is a barrier to accessing health, education and social supports during this pandemic. 
  • Equitable access to high-speed internet has been raised locally in almost all our Poverty Task Force action groups, at the Grey Bruce Children’s Alliance table and other working tables. In one critical response, local school boards have left laptops/chrome books with families over the summer in anticipation of the need for online access now and when school resumes.
  • The Ontario government has announced $150 million to expand access to reliable broadband and cellular service in underserved and unserved parts of the province under the Improving Connectivity for Ontario program (ICON).  The Province is investing in the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project to bring high-speed broadband to 50,000 more homes and businesses across Southwestern Ontario.
  • Grey Bruce employment support service organizations (YMCA, VPI, and 4 County Labour Market Planning Board) recently reported that online training is popular and well attended with high retention rates under COVID19. Online training has overcome the usual transportation barrier with in-person training. MP Alex Ruff writes “affordable, ready and fast access to the internet is becoming as important to Canadians as access to electricity.” 

FOOD SUPPORTS

  • The Community Food Program List has been updated. 
  • Community garden programs are in full production. Meaford Community Gardens are distributing fresh produce on food bank days of Golden Town Outreach, carrying out garden classes with reduced numbers of youth in the gardens and received a Tree Canada grant to develop an edible forest.  Under COVID19 Stage 2, community gardens have not been able to bring together people to community kitchens.  
  • YUM program out of South East Grey CHC served 525 meals in June. 
  • St. Aidan’s Frozen Meal program is averaging 700 meals per month. 
  • Lucknow Good Food Box distribution 185 boxes in July and are still scheduled for August.   

TRANSPORTATION SUPPORTS

Stay well, Jill