As poverty activists feared, the Ontario government is yanking a $200 million special diet allowance for people on social assistance.
The program will be replaced with a new “nutritional supplement program” administered not by social services, but by the health ministry.
Officials would provide no immediate information on this new program nor confirm how much money would be invested.
Tom Pearson, of the Poverty Action For Change Coalition in York, said about 160,000 Ontarians are affected by changes to the special diet.
“They’re going to end up cutting that program,” Pearson predicted.
The Ontario government is boosting welfare and disability benefit payments by 1% starting in late fall.
The $57 million cost of the 1% increase in benefits would be shared with municipalities which would be expected to pick up roughly 20%, although that burden will lighten as the province uploads social services costs over the next few years.
But John Clarke, of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), has said that the loss of the special diet program would be the equivalent of a 1.5% loss in benefits.
The program has come under fire from the provincial auditor who raised questions about whether it was going to people with medical conditions, or being used by some recipients as a way to boost their general income.
“This program is not sustainable and is not achieving the intended results,” the budget document says. “The transition to the nutritional supplement program would occur over the next several months. This would give recipients the opportunity to adjust to the new program.”
The government also intends to create a web portal to centralize access to information about the wide variety of social assistance programs.
It’s also saying it will bring in automated income verification for people on social assistance.
Doris Grinspun, of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, said the organization will be keeping a close eye on the fate of the special diet program as it transitions into a new entity.
RNAO expects the minister of health to hold open and transparent consultations with poverty groups and health care stakeholders to ensure that the new program doesn’t end up “damaging” people, she said.