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Update: Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit

January 18 | ISAC

On December 27, 2012, the provincial government announced $42 million in one-time funding for local housing and homelessness initiatives.

The announcement says that the money “will assist eligible municipalities as they develop and implement their Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) plans. Funds will be allocated to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Ontarians – including social assistance recipients – to ensure their stability through this period of transition as plans are developed.”

The funds will be provided to municipalities for the period January 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014. The entire text of the announcement can be read here: http://news.ontario.ca/mcss/en/2012/12/enhancing-housing-and-homelessness-supports.html

What Does This Announcement Mean?

The December 27 announcement will temporarily restore some of the money that the government intended to save when it decided to eliminate the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) and transfer half of CSUMB funds to local municipalities.

The decision to move half of CSUMB money to municipalities is part of the provincial government’s overhaul of the way that housing and homelessness supports are funded and administered.

Under the government’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy, a number of housing and homelessness programs are being consolidated in stages over the next three years. The money for these consolidated programs will be given to municipalities, who will use it to fund the housing and homelessness services that low-income people in their local communities need. The idea is to give local municipalities more flexibility to provide whatever housing or homelessness services are needed in their communities, and to provide these services to all people with low incomes regardless of whether they receive social assistance or are working.

The creation of the CHPI is the first stage of consolidation – five programs are being combined (Emergency Hostel Services, Domiciliary Hostels, the Emergency Energy Fund, the Consolidated Homelessness Prevention Program, and the Rent Bank). Including half of CSUMB money in CHPI was unexpected, however, and the way that the money was allocated meant that most municipalities would get significantly less than half of what was previously given to people through CSUMB.

A concerted effort to restore CSUMB was undertaken by individuals, groups, organizations, and municipalities across Ontario, who understood that it would result in more homelessness among people receiving social assistance. They also recognized that municipalities hadn’t been given sufficient time to figure out how they were going to respond, both to the changes in funding administration and to the significantly lower amount of money being provided.

The December 27 announcement is an important and positive move on the part of the provincial government that will provide some measure of help to municipalities to meet the housing-related needs of low-income Ontarians in 2013/14. The announcement would not have happened without the advocacy and organizing work of many, many people across the province.

At this point, municipalities across the province are figuring out how to administer the CHPI money that they are receiving, and what they will do with the additional funds they are getting from the $42 million. Some municipalities are currently creating local programs that will replace CSUMB. Some municipalities are not.

How Will These Changes Affect People Receiving OW or ODSP?

Despite the announcement of the additional $42 million, there are still a number of negative implications for people receiving social assistance.

1. The additional funding does not restore the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB), which ceased to exist as of January 1, 2013 as a mandatory benefit for people receiving Ontario Works or ODSP.

The loss of CSUMB means that people receiving social assistance can no longer count on having access to a benefit that will help them pay for large expenses related to their housing needs.

Instead, part of the money that used to go to CSUMB will be mixed with other funds that are supposed to meet the housing and homelessness needs of all low-income people in local communities.

This change is part of a larger policy trend in Ontario toward “moving benefits out” of social assistance and providing them to all low-income people, regardless of whether or not they are receiving OW or ODSP.

Providing benefits to all low-income Ontarians is a good policy priority. However, expanding eligibility for help to all low-income people while at the same time significantly reducing the amount of money available is not sound social policy.

2. The change is also part of a trend toward eliminating mandatory and needs-based programs.

CSUMB was a needs-based program. Because it was given to all qualifying applicants, the amount of money the province spent from year to year fluctuated depending on how much support people needed.

Now, the annual funding that each municipality gets from the province for CHPI is capped at a fixed amount.

This means that municipalities will now have to manage a capped budget and allocate funds for often competing priorities. Some needs will be met, while others will not.

3. The elimination of CSUMB is also part of this government’s shift in focus toward fiscal austerity.

The government’s rationale for eliminating CSUMB has been the size of the provincial government’s deficit. The Minister has said in the media: “no one wanted to do it, but again, we had to make the budget balance.”

The provincial government made a commitment to reducing poverty through the creation of the province’s historic five-year Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2008. All parties in the Ontario Legislature reiterated that commitment through their unanimous support for the Poverty Reduction Act that was passed in 2009.

Eliminating CSUMB and reducing housing and homelessness supports for the sake of balancing the provincial budget flies in the face of the commitment to poverty reduction.

4. Whether or not people receiving OW or ODSP will have access to money for the kinds of expenses that CSUMB used to cover will depend on where in Ontario they live. This undermines the principle that people who rely on social assistance should have consistent access to benefits across the province.

Some municipalities are currently creating replacement programs for CSUMB. Some municipalities are not. And some replacement programs are temporary measures, put in place until they figure out their longer-term local housing and homelessness plans.

The additional $42 million will help municipalities in the short-term, but that funding will run out as of March 2014. Whether or not municipal replacement programs will continue to exist after that time is unknown.

People receiving social assistance, their allies and their advocates will now have to advocate with their local municipal governments, both now and at budget time every year, to underline the importance of providing CSUMB-like benefits under CHPI. Local advocacy work will have to be done each year to ensure that municipal budgets for these benefits are not reduced but instead increased.

5. The elimination of CSUMB from social assistance means the loss of appeal rights and therefore a loss of access to justice.

Until January 1, 2013, if a person on social assistance was denied CSUMB, they had the statutory right to appeal the denial to the Social Benefits Tribunal, which is a quasi-judicial body that can make determinations of decisions that affect an individual’s eligibility for or amount of social assistance.

Now, any decision that will be made about whether or not a person receives funding from a municipal replacement program will not be appealable to the Social Benefits Tribunal. There may be the opportunity to ask for an internal review, but an internal review does not provide the same level of protection from incorrect or arbitrary decision-making.

This loss of oversight means the loss of fairness and protection for Ontarians receiving social assistance.

6. The elimination of CSUMB and the transfer of half the funds to municipal administration constitute a major change in social assistance policy.

The provincial government made this major change unilaterally and without any consultation – either with people receiving assistance themselves and their advocates and allies, or with municipalities, who now have to determine how to respond to the continuing need for this benefit among people receiving OW and ODSP. The change also appears to have been made without any analysis of the negative impact it would have on people and communities.

In addition, this major policy change was undertaken while the government’s Social Assistance Review Commission was still in the process of making recommendations on reforming the system as a whole.

As the government moves forward on reforming the social assistance system in Ontario, this type of unilateral, non-consultative, and improperly evaluated reform cannot take place again. Reform must be undertaken in a way that is transparent, consultative, fact-based, and has clearly articulated objectives to which all parties have agreed. It will be critically important that people receiving assistance and their advocates and allies push for such a process.

Where Can People Receiving OW or ODSP Go for Help?

People who are receiving OW or ODSP who have expenses like those that used to be covered by CSUMB should talk to their caseworker to find out if their local municipality has set up a local replacement fund.

What Can I Do About All This?

There are both short-term and longer-term actions that can be taken to try to mitigate some of the worst impacts of this change.

  • Short-Term

 1. Ask Liberal Leadership Candidates to Reinstate the CSUMB

The Ontario Liberal Party will be choosing its new Leader – and therefore Ontario’s new Premier – at a leadership convention January 25-27.

An immediate action to take is to contact each of the Liberal leadership candidates to ask them to commit to restoring CSUMB as a social assistance benefit if they become Liberal leader.

2. Make Sure Your Municipality Has a Temporary Replacement Program

As mentioned above, some municipalities across Ontario are creating new, local programs to make sure that people receiving social assistance continue to have access to funding for expenses that CSUMB used to cover. But some municipalities are not.

Now that the interim funding has been announced, it is even more important to contact your local municipal councillors and urge them to make sure that a replacement program is created.

A good replacement program is one that operates like CSUMB did:

  1. It specifically targets financial support to people on OW and ODSP;
  2. It ensures that people in particularly vulnerable situations are targeted;
  3. It helps people pay for a wide variety of expenses related to securing new housing and/or staying in their home;
  4. It provides the same amount of funding that CSUMB used to provide (up to $799 for a single person or up to $1500 for people with children);
  5. It has an appeal process so that people who are denied the funding the right to have that decision reviewed.

See our original campaign backgrounder for more information about how CSUMB used to work: http://sareview.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Backgrounder-for-General-Distribution.doc

Local municipalities are in the process of creating their budgets for the next year right now, so make sure to contact them immediately.

  •  Longer-Term

1.   Urge Your Municipality to Create a Permanent CSUMB-Like Program

Under the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy, municipalities have an obligation to create local housing and homelessness plans by January 1, 2014 and that these plans must identify the needs in their community and how they will be addressed. The provincial government has stated that plans have to be developed in consultation with the public.

Contact your local municipality and ask how you can get involved in the public consultations to develop a local housing and homelessness plan.

Advocate with your local municipal politicians and staff for a permanent program that will address the needs of vulnerable social assistance recipients to establish and maintain a decent home.

2.   Track the Impact of the Loss of CSUMB

ISAC and the Wellesley Institute have created an online tool that housing workers and others who support people receiving social assistance can use to track the impact of the loss of CSUMB on the people they work with.

Making sure that we know what happened to people as the result of the loss of this benefit will be important for a number of reasons, including:

a)     It will demonstrate the importance of maintaining and/or increasing funding for municipal replacement programs, and of ensuring the creation and maintenance of local municipal replacement programs.

b)     As the provincial government takes further steps to reform social assistance, they may be thinking about making similar changes to other benefits. Knowing the impact of the CSUMB change will help inform how restructuring might happen in the future.

The tracking tool can be accessed through ISAC’s website at: http://sareview.ca/isac-news/tracking-tool-loss-of-csumb.

We have created a page on ISAC’s Social Assistance Review website as a repository of information about CSUMB and efforts to have it restored – our backgrounders, information from government, and other tools and resources. The page is at: http://sareview.ca/isac-resources/csumb-info-repository/.

 

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