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Budget cuts threaten to leave social assistance recipients in the cold

Paul Denison

February 4, 2013

Social assistance rates are so low that they barely cover basic needs; as a result people on assistance live in constant precariousness and insecurity. Any unexpected expense no matter how small can become a major disruption that causes a person to lose their housing or keep them from obtaining housing.  This leaves people caught in a constant cycle of homelessness and housing insecurity.
The Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB), was set up to meet this need, until it was cut by the Ontario Liberal Government on January 1, 2013. The CSUMB was a special fund available from the provincial government to help people on social assistance deal with unexpected or emergency housing costs such as first and last month rent when someone is moving; bed bug treatments and replacing furniture and bedding thrown out during bedbug treatment process; replacing worn appliances and furniture and furnishing new apartments; childcare expenses that may result in a parent losing their children and housing; unexpectedly high utility bills; or rental arrears. The CSUMB was also used for transitional expenses for women fleeing domestic violence, homeless people moving off the street or out of emergency shelters, and people living with mental health problems moving from hospital into the community. CSUMB was a very useful flexible program, and its loss will result in increased homelessness and precariousness.
In place of CSUMB the province has created the “Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI)” which will be administered by municipal governments. The rational for this change is that municipal governments can best tailor housing programs to fit local needs, and the new program will now be available to all low income people whether they are on assistance or not.
On the surface this is a laudable move, however there are a number of problems. This new program disguises a funding cut: only 50 per cent of the budget that was available for CSUMB will be transferred to municipalities for CHPI, while at the same time expanding the number of people who are eligible.  There is also no guarantee that municipal governments will create the program for the same purposes as CSUMB, or they will fund it adequately. CSUMB was a program that all people in Ontario receiving social assistance benefits were entitled to, and now depending on where they live they may not be able to access it. Municipalities are not required to have a plan in place until next year. On December 27 the province announced that full funding would be temporarily restored for one year to bridge the gap until municipalities have new programs in place.
Since the announcement of the cut in the March 2012 budget, community groups have been organizing, and many events took place throughout last fall. Activists continue to pressure the province, asking to have the CSUMB permanently restored.
If you are in the Toronto area, there will be a public meeting on What Happened to the CSUMB and how to access the new Housing Stabilization Fund.  It will be held at the Parkdale Library 1303 Queen St. West, Wednesday Feb 13 6:00 pm. Parkdale Community  Legal Services will also be holding clinics to help people access the Housing Stabilization Fund.

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