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Hamilton budget depends on declining OW caseloads for 2013

By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Hamilton’s low unemployment and economic revival are having the desired effect of cutting its Ontario Works caseload, say officials.

Politicians remain pleasantly surprised at the declining Ontario Works caseload, which last year hit on average 13,288 per month. Last December, the average caseload was 12,536. City officials saw in 2012 about 1,300 people leave Ontario Works, the largest drop since 2008.

“It is tied to the lower unemployment rate (in Hamilton),” said Kerry Lubrick, director of income and employment services.

Mayor Bob Bratina has touted Hamilton’s favourable economic turnaround, with the many development projects occurring downtown, and pointing to the city’s 5.4 per cent unemployment rate, about two per cent lower than the provincial average of about 7.4 per cent, in recent speeches at his State of the City address, a Hamilton Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting and the Hamilton Halton Homebuilders’ Association.

Dundas councillor Russ Powers said the 2 per cent unemployment rate difference is due to providing the opportunities for local people on Ontario Works assistance to “find meaningful employment.”

The city’s Ontario Works caseloads began to increase soon after the global recession hit the city. Caseload levels were at 10,035 in 2008, jumping to 12,224 in 2009 and 13,807 in 2011. The number of caseloads peaked in July 2011. at 14,000 per month.

Joe-Anne Priel, general manager of community and emergency services, said the 0.6 per cent  decrease for her 2013 department budget proposal, one of the lowest among city departments, is based upon Ontario Works caseloads continuing to decline in 2013.

“It is a risk,” said Priel.

She acknowledged there was a spike in the caseload figures in January, 2013, but that occurs every year. If the caseload increases by one per cent this year, equaling about 125 cases, it will add about $1 million to the gross budget numbers.

“It does cost us more when people stay on the caseload longer,” she said. “Still, the numbers are going down.”

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