The Government of Ontario has released their 2017 budget for A Stronger, Healthier Ontario. The Ottawa Food Bank feels that this budget is generally good news and a step in the right direction, however, while the new budget provides investments in key areas such as social assistance rates, affordable housing, and hydro rates, further investments are needed to have a lasting impact on the people who seek assistance from our community food programs.
While a 2% increase in social assistance rates is a positive investment, a more substantial increase is required to help families keep pace with rising costs. 65% of people who turn to the Ottawa Food Bank receive social assistance – many of whom pay 100% of their monthly income on housing.
The expansion of the rent control has potential to have a positive impact on food bank visitors, however we would welcome further investment into new affordable housing builds here in Ottawa. Currently there are 22,500 units of affordable housing in Ottawa. But with an additional 10,000 households on the waiting list and a potential five year wait, we must do more.
Help with hydro costs through the Fair Hydro Plan is something that is imperative for the people our community food programs see on a daily basis, as was highlighted as proposed policy change in the fall by the Ontario Association of Food Banks.
We are interested to see what happens with the Supermarket Recovery Program, as food recovery is something we have been participating in for the last 20 years. If done properly, this has incredible potential. But as the Food Recovery experts in Ottawa, we know the tremendous costs involved, limited resources, and capacity of our partners, and will watch this development carefully.
Perhaps the most significant policy change that could help reduce food bank usage rates is the Basic Income Pilot. This pilot shows that the Ontario government has in interest in poverty reduction and we are happy to see the pilot is moving forward as early as this summer.
While there is room for more to be done to help improve the lives of people who are living at or near the poverty line, we acknowledge the positive steps our provincial government is taking to attempt to build a more inclusive community.
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