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Posts tagged ‘social assistance’

Special Diet Allowance – To Be or not to Be??

So our government has decided to do away with a key, essential service.  The special diet allowance.

The special diet allowance is / was an allowance for folks that have special dietary needs.  These are folks with Diabetes, Cancer, Depression, and many more illnesses.  Too many to count.  People on social assistance were getting extra money to buy the foods that they required in order to live a more healthy life… to try and alleviate some of the issues they faced that went along with their specific illness.  For instance, Diabetes can be controlled, in it’s early stages, with a proper diet.  That diet is a low sugar diet, which means low carbohydrates.  The cycle starts here.  If you are on the system, receiving money, you don’t get enough money to buy the healthy food your body needs.  As a result you end up eating foods you gather from food banks, or from drop ins and these foods are loaded with carbohydrates, and salt!  People need to eat.  This diet aggravates the symptoms and the illness, putting the person in higher risk of the next step of Diabetes.  Diabetes can be very painful.  If you get hurt, you don’t heal properly, and sometimes you have to have parts of your body amputated.  A person with Diabetes  absolutely must have a good diet, it is detrimental in holding this at bay.  If you don’t start out with an illness when you enter into the *system*, you’re pretty likely going to develop one based on the diet you are expected to survive on.

As it turns out, people started to learn of this dietary allowance, and rightfully so – they applied for it.  Even if a person is not sick, has no illness, this dietary allowance becomes sort of a beacon in the night as noone on the system has enough money to eat.  So good for them for applying and doing what needed to be done in order to survive!  If you try to live on $592.00 a month, and that’s got to cover your rent, food, medical needs, transportation, etc, you will soon realize that you cannot do it.  What would you be willing to do, to eat?  Applying for additional funds is a lesser evil than some choices people are faced with.  And a safer choice.  So something has to give when there is no money to survive, and in most cases it is food that gets cut from the budget.  There is nothing dignified, nor healthy about this choice, but you need a roof over your head.  Consider that to rent even one room in Toronto is approximately $450.00 and up – what does that leave you?   Either you starve, you eat what you get from food banks, or drop ins, or you apply for this allowance and have some control over your health.  Health goes much deeper than Diabetes and all the illnesses that people have to suffer.  It affects your energy, your self confidence, your ability to think, to function.  Your desire to get out of bed each day.  Try to find a job when all you can think of is where your next meal is coming from!  Food banks have specific hours and locations that you may or may not be able to make it to.  Consider travelling with this food… or the stigma that goes along with visiting a food bank.  Think on how each time you enter through the doors of a food bank you feel less of a human, more of a beggar.  Then take that food home and try to manage it.  In most cases this food has to last you more than a week, but they give you enough food for three days.

Since people have discovered this avenue for filling their tummies the numbers of people applying have obviously gone up.  The government has decided that folks are abusing the system, aided by their medical professionals. They point to the auditor general’s December 2009 report, which insinuated that many people who receive support – and their doctors, nurses, and dietitians – are purposely abusing the program although no investigation has been done. The government was also ordered by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to increase allowances for people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity – which are widely known to put people at risk for heart disease – and to add low blood protein to the list of conditions covered.

This is because the Tribunal found that the program was discriminating against people with these conditions. But instead of complying with this order, in the last budget in 2010, the government said they were ending the discrimination by eliminating the program entirely.

The fact that people are on the system to begin with puts them in this category.  It makes people sick.  Social Assistance makes people sick. Think on it.  The government has decided that there is no way all these people can be sick.   They created the problem!  It’s systemic and it’s not stopping because they will not provide enough money to eat.  It’s a cycle.  You go on the system, you get sick, you can’t function properly – you are stuck on the system.   Even if you get lucky and find a part time job in this economy they take some of that money from you, ensuring that you will not move forward.

The government says that it isn’t cutting the special diet, but it is replacing it with another program.  Alright, let’s look at that!  No one that is currently on the special diet allowance program is going to be automatically brought into the new program.  You must reapply – under new guidelines.  The application process is going to go through the ministry of community and social services, as opposed to the social assistance programs that provide these monies right now.  So keep that in mind, just because you are on it now, does not mean you are definitely on it with the new program.  To top it off, the list of applicable illnesses will be shortened.  I suppose if you are not visually, noticeably dying, in their eyes, you don’t get coverage.  What do they consider to be worthy enough of being given money to eat?  How sick do you have to be in order that they will provide you with necessary healthy diets?  It’s a good question.  Last, but not least, there are rumors that the amount of money given will be much lower than previously because of where the money is coming from. The government would like us to think that they have to take from one social program in order to support another, when the fact is… the money is there.  They just refuse to pay it and they refuse to support this need.  More than 44 MPs have agreed that the rates of social assistance are inadequate, but that isn’t budging them.  Communities around Ontario are all doing a challenge – it’s called Do the Math Challenge.  They are attempting to live off a food bank basket for a week, as someone on assistance would be forced to do.  They are blogging their experiences, and going to their governments to tell them.  The government says that there is no public support for this need of money for food.

This year, before April, the new papers are being sent out to folks for the new applications to start being filled in and processed.  I don’t think they have mentioned yet, or given a specific list of who qualifies to eat, and that’s likely because they know that there will be public outcry and fury over their choices.  I imagine the choices they make now would be somewhat different if someone they loved were in this situation, but they aren’t.  They have food.  They have money to get the medical attention they need in times of illness.  They have enough nourishment to prevent illness to begin with.

The government has clearly shown that they agree people need food in order to be productive, contributing, healthy members of society.  They have shown this in the fact that they started a program for children to eat at school.  These children have parents.  Every single person should have food, it’s a basic right, as is shelter.  It looks to me like they are just feeding the children to look good…because they starve them as adults.  It’s a crime.  No one should go hungry in a country as rich as Canada is… nor anywhere else.  How can you expect your country to be strong and whole…supportive and functioning at it’s highest levels when you starve them?  You would think this is simple, common sense!  Everyone doing the math challenge has agreed..well over 1000 people and growing, so what does that say about the people in our government?

The conditions that are expected to be removed from the special diet schedule include:

· allergies to egg
· allergies to soya
· chronic constipation
· gout
· cardiovascular disease
· congenital abnormalities of the metabolic type – adults
· congenital abnormalities of the metabolic type – infants & children
· diverticulum/diverticulitis
· hypertension and CHF and Grade 1 and 2 ventricular function
· macrocytic anemia
· malabsorption
· microcytic anemia
· post-gastric surgery
· prediabetes: impaired glucose tolerance
· Kwashikor (weight loss condition)
· Marasmus (weight loss condition)

The conditions that are expected to remain in the special diet schedule include:

· celiac disease
· chronic wounds and burns
· conditions causing unintentional weight loss/body wasting:
– ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – Lou Gehrig’s disease)
– anorexia nervosa
– Crohn’s disease
– cirrhosis
– congestive heart failure
– cystic fibrosis
– lupus
– malignancy
– multiple sclerosis
– ostomies (e.g. jejunostomy, ileostomy)
– pancreatic insufficiency
– short bowel syndrome
– ulcerative colitis
· diabetes
· dysphagia requiring thickening liquids
· extreme obesity (BMI > 40)
· food allergy – milk/dairy
· food allergy – wheat
· gestational diabetes
· hypercholesterolemia
· hyperlipidemia
· hypertension
· insufficient lactation to sustain breast-feeding or breast-feeding is contraindicated
· lactose intolerance
· osteoporosis
· renal failure

What Does it Mean to Me?

I’ve been asked to speak at the rally on November 15th.  Put Food in the Budget and The Stop are holding a rally to wrap up the October Do the Math Challenge.  We are going to have speakers and music and someone is creating a slide show.  There were 350 people last year, so I’m really nervous and not sure yet that I can do it. LOL  I’m sure I’ll pass out and die..right there… :S

I’ve been asked to speak to the question of *what this campaign means to me*.

I’m on Social Assistance, so that makes me an expert on this topic.  No one can survive on the amount of money you are given on social assistance, so local services become very important.  I discovered that location is everything.  I recently moved to Scarborough.  I was living downtown.  I used to walk to a church winter program called *Out of the Cold*.  We would make breakfast each morning through the week and dinner on weekend nights.  I can no longer access these services as I would need $6.00 for each trip and I would have to travel long before 6 am.  The bus service here doesn’t start until 6:45.  I would go and eat and they often handed out food to take home.  I can’t go to any of the food banks or drop ins that I used to use because they are based on your address.  These are the reasons I had food before my move.

I got involved with South Riverdale Community Health Centre a year ago.  We created a group called the Health and Strength Action Group.   I started volunteering there because Social Assistance gives you an additional $100.00 if you can prove you volunteer somewhere.  It’s supposed to be for transportation – for a metro pass that costs more than $100.00, but I use it for food.  I was skeptical when I first joined.  Yes, it all sounded good in theory – the fact that all humans have rights and should be allowed to eat, to have dignity, and health so I decided to stick with it.  I used to feel ashamed of being on social assistance.  If anyone asked where I worked I would tell them and quickly change the topic, avoiding eye contact, avoiding the scornful look that was sure to follow.  I know that people think recipients are lazy, living off the system, and they have no desire to work – I even believed it.  My self confidence, self esteem and self worth didn’t exist.  In the beginning I was embarrassed to talk about this campaign.  I thought I had no right to ask for the things we were demanding.

Since then I’ve been to rallies, handed out fliers, put up posters, attended meetings, spoken and sang in public, and I’ve listened.  I’ve listened to all the people that now surround me and they are saying I have a right to eat a healthy diet.  They are telling me that I’m a person and I count.  I was at the first Do the Math report back, at the Barns, last year and to say that my eyes have since been opened is an understatement.  In the year that has passed I truly understand how diet plays a key role in your mental and physical health.  Watching the Do the Math Challenge unfold this time around has been astounding.  Being involved in this campaign I have seen the changes, the solidarity and growing support, and I’ve seen opinions and misconceptions shift toward empathy and understanding once knowledge is gained about the harsh reality of trying to survive on social assistance.  All of Ontario is saying the same things that I’ve been hearing all year!  Imagine, it might just be true!  Living on Social Assistance doesn’t have to be so painful and people in over 20 communities in and around Toronto will tell you that this is the case!  The government would have us believe there is no money for feeding the people that vote them into office, or that they would have to choose between programs and someone else would have to do without.  Apparently it isn’t important that you have strong, confident, healthy citizens that can contribute to society.  The people don’t agree.

Being a part of this campaign means that I can hold my head up.  I don’t feel ashamed and I believe with every fiber of my being that all people deserve food.  It’s a basic right.  I know I’m not alone anymore, and I walk with my self respect, my self esteem and my self worth in tact.  I walk with all the people who are involved in this campaign, the people that are fighting for change.  It gives me strength and confidence to know that people actually care.   It took years for people to build up these biased notions of people wanting to be on assistance because it’s easier than working and it may take just as long to reverse this thinking and bring about change, but change is what we need because people are starving.  Ask yourself if you could survive on $585.00 a month, take the math challenge, then try to look me in the eye and honestly say everything is ok.

What this campaign means to me is that people will be able to eat, they will be able to make healthy choices for their diets.  It means that food banks will no longer be a necessity to survival.  Winning this campaign means that we can all hold our heads high.  I’m proud to be a part of this fight and I demand change.  I also hope there’s no need to hold another rally next year!

Put Food in the Budget!

Preconcieved Notions and Misconceptions.

People who are on the *system*…welfare, ODSP… they get a bad wrap.  Just because they are there, doesn’t mean they want to be there.

Some folks end up there through no fault of their own.  You lose your job because you fall ill.  Your rent is 800.00 –  you can no longer afford it.  Or your landlord of 11 years sells his building and informs all that live there that they have two months to move.  But now you are on the system.  You’re used to working and making good money – but that’s not the case now.  Now you must survive an entire month on 591.00 – that’s rent, food, clothes, medical needs, transportation.  Your rent *allotment* is considered to be 345.00.  lol  In a city where it costs approximately (at the lowest) 425.00 JUST to rent a single room where you must share bathroom facillities – what does that leave you to live on?   166.00.  So you think you’ll get a roommate and lower the costs?  Don’t think you can get just *any* roommate – if it’s the opposite sex they will call you a couple and decide your fate on what that other person earns!!  And what happens if you CAN’T find a new place to live?  Now you’re homeless…A buspass is 130.00.  If you want to search for work or go to a food bank or another resource to get food – churches, community centres.  What do you spend on food a month?  For a single person?  And I mean on food you like… food that’s good for you.  If you go to a food bank what do you get?  You get starch and carbohydrates.  You get rice, pasta, tin foods.  And it’s not just one race of people going there.  Each person has different requirements.  In some places the people cannot eat specific foods for religious reasons.  People with diabetes can’t eat any of the above.  And don’t expect meat or salad.  If you were to have a choice to eat what and how much you need, what would you require to spend on food?  To live a healthy and dignified life?  What about a phone?  You need a phone to call for jobs and get call backs, right?  So add that in.

Without proper nutrition you get sick.  Your health care costs rise.  Your confidence and self esteem drop.  Try looking for an apartment and telling your new landlord that you are on the system… Try explaining to a new boss in an interview what you’ve been *doing* with yourself for the last few months.  Attempt to get a job where no one is hiring.  Then you start to make choices.  Do I buy the food I need or get a buspass?  Do I pay rent or bills?  If I get an interview, how will I get there and what will I wear?  If I get a haircut do I cut out some food?

Now – knowing that people are starving – let’s take a look at the special food diet.  This was implemented to supply people with foods they need depending on their illnesses.  At first it wasn’t well known, but as time went on folks discovered it and took advantage of the fact that they could actually get money for FOOD.   So the numbers went up…. well, why not.  People need to eat.  So now the gov has decided that it’s *unsustainable* to feed people?…they are phasing out this diet.  Now you must reapply to the ministry of health, as apposed to social assistance.   They will have a list of illnesses they deem appropriate to cover and it will be less money than recipients were originally receiving, perhaps even coupon type mentality.  And not all recipients are being grandfathered into the new plan.  Another cut, another slash to the poor.  Way to go – so proud of our government.

People – all people – have a right to food.  There is certainly enough of it on this planet and our government knows this.  But here’s the catch.  If they raise the rates of social assistance – they have to raise the minimum wages in companies.  Minimum wage is still below the poverty line.  But if social assistance is near that rate – then they believe people will have no desire to take those low paying jobs.  And if they don’t provide social assistance and they just let people die in the streets – they believe there will be a massive uproar in the people…  Well, that’s what they need.  Massive uproar.  Because they ARE starving people.

Food banks were introduced as an emergency measure – they weren’t meant to be part of your monthly income.  They weren’t meant to be sustainable.

Health, and healthy food choices should be a normal part of life.  Life with dignity.  Shame on our government for starving it’s people.  No one can be expected to get ahead when they are hungry and this has been proven just by the fact that we have lunch programs or breakfast programs in schools for our children.  What are we doing?  Feeding them young and then starving them when they grow up?

And so what if you DO get a job, a part time job to start?  They take half of your pay OR MORE… each month.  So you work this month – they take it off your next cheque…but what if you don’t work next month?  They don’t help you get ahead.  They hold you down.

Some folks have life long illnesses.  They are on the system.  Did they ask to get Cancer, or AIDs or Diabetes, or Myofibrillar myopathies?

Truly – stop misconceiving the world around you…know your facts.  Help raise awareness – when we raise the lowest of us, we all raise to new heights.

Single folks aside – what about people with children!  (Thanks Kayla B for pointing this out.)  People have to go day to day worrying about how to feed their children.  Have you ever had a small child?  In school?  Try paying for all the trips.  Try telling your child that 6.50 is too much and they have to stay home when all the other children are going on a trip.  Try sending your child to school with a lunch comprised of food bank goods.  Try spending money on gym suits, day planners, locks for lockers…etc.  The list never ends, as anyone with kids knows.  And this doesn’t even cover clothing them… in what they feel comfortable in – because kids make fun of each other.  And what about how they are treated when they are asked what their parents do for a living?  Bring your parents to school?  Really?  How about having your friend over at lunch time?  What are you going to feed them?

Then there’s a whole other section – folks that were brought up on assistance – and then the grown up children go on it.  It’s all they know.  Maybe they had a parent that had a life long illness, that couldn’t work.  All that child knows is the system.  We all learn coping mechanisms and tools of survival from our caretakers, our providers – and this is what they learn.  No one knows anything but what they are taught when they are younger.  As you get older you learn for yourself.  But it’s ok – because if they get a job – assistance will just take some of that money to keep them there.

All in all.  Poor people are not criminals, or lazy or wanting to be on the system.  They are aware that working provides better money.  They are aware that it’s no fun to be stressed out because every minute of the day is spent searching for ways to get food – for themselves and maybe for their loved ones as well.  If the system covered at least the basics – a place to live and food in their bellies… they would have a life with some dignity and they would be a stronger people.

When it comes to social assistance rates, Harris era lives on…

Put Food in the Budget posted this note as follow up to the recent budget announcements!

Click Here!

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