NORTHUMBERLAND — The comprehensive social assistance review the provincial government has launched is ‘vital’ with so many people out of work, running out of employment insurance, severance packages and having to live on welfare for the first time, says the head of Northumberland United Way.

Lynda Kay’s concern is shared by Lois Cromarty, chair of the Poverty Reduction Committee of Northumberland.

‘If you’ve looked at the social assistance rates, you’d see (the need),’ Cromarty said in an interview Wednesday.

 The rate increase Dec. 1 for a single person went up just seven dollars per month to $368 for shelter and $224 for all other needs including food, she said. Considering the cost of rent alone, that leaves very little for anything else.

‘It’s very difficult to do,’ she said.

The newly-appointed Ontario government commission needs to recommend changes that allow people needing social assistance to have a ‘standard of living’ and quality of life, Cromarty stressed.

The Poverty Reduction Committee of Northumberland will discuss its participation in the review at its upcoming meeting in January, she said.

About five years ago the Northumberland United Way undertook a ‘Community Matters’ study and it pointed out the issues affecting the working poor and those on assistance. From that has grown a partial transportation network into rural areas in Northumberland, some new affordable housing units and the Food 4 All Warehouse helping people to access nutrition, Kay said. But the downturn in the economy has increased the overall need since then and there are still waiting lists.

Like the Poverty Reduction Committee, Kay expects Northumberland United Way (which helps fund a number of agencies that assist low-income people in a variety of ways), ‘will want to have input’ into the review that begins in January and continues for 18-months.

‘People are struggling. There is no doubt about it,’ Kay said.

The review is the outgrowth of recommendations from the provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy Committee that local MPP Lou Rinaldi worked on several years ago. During that process ‘it came out loud and clear we have so many silos and things to help the needy….they don’t necessarily work together,’ Rinaldi said.

Read this article on the Northumberland Today website.