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Hamilton faces $8-million shortfall in social services costs

By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Hamilton is staring at an $8-million shortfall this year in providing discretionary benefits and the Community Start-Up and Maintenance program to at risk residents, says Joe-Anne Priel, general manager of community and emergency services.

The Ontario government last year slashed funding to both programs that provide assistance to low income citizens for medical care, funerals, homelessness services, first and last months rent and money for moving expenses.

The city managed to cover about half the cost late last year, using about $3.35 million from reserves, but that money is set to run out this June. The province prior to Christmas partially reversed course and provided Hamilton with about $3 million. Still, the programs continue to have a shortfall of close to $4 million.

“If we don’t get provincial help, we will be short $8 million,” said Priel.

While the province did partially fund some of the Community Start-Up programs, they ignored the discretionary benefits, leaving a shortfall of about $3.4 million.

“I will be coming back in May to ask for more help from council,” said Priel. “It will be one time. I expect we will have to spend some money.”

Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie isn’t confident the province will come to the city’s rescue.

“We should be prepared to invest in this area,” he said.

Besides the discretionary benefits, the province has fallen short in providing money to other needed programs for the city’s low income population, including the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, affordable housing, food banks, emergency shelter services, and immigration strategies.

City officials and politicians are looking to recently appointed Community and Social Services Minister Ted McMeekin to provide some relief. In addition, Priel said the city agrees to the province’s social assistance review commission, which will be releasing its report on reforming the process in September.

But since 2008 when the Liberals announced their commitment to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent within five years, the government has provided little encouragement to social service activists, ignoring calls to boost the welfare rates, for instance.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said during a media conference with area media Feb. 14 she wasn’t looking at raising the minimum wage from its current $10.25. But she is committed to reviewing how social services programs are funded.

“Those changes need to be looked at,” said Wynne.

As the province continues to upload services, she said it’s imperative “to look at the net benefit to municipalities.”

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