Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Comment from WLU Business and Economics

I take what you are doing very seriously and respect your heart. But I am
not going to ratchet down to $5 per day-it took me 44 years to get to
current consumption levels-and it is not going to help anyone directly
beyond raising my level of empathy.

On a technical note, I am not sure that your statistics are correct. In your
newsletter you mention that over 700,000 are on social assistance. This may
be true, but according to the Government of Ontario there are only 196,000
cases (376,000 beneficiaries) in the Ontario Works program as of December
2006. Of those beneficiaries, approximately 159,060 are children. Thus, over
two thirds of recipients live with dependents, most of whom are children.


The fact that most live with a dependent should mean that the household
budget is a little higher than you suggest in the newsletter. For example,
if each individual receives $536, then a household with one parent and one
child will receive $1,072. If rent is $335 per month and a bus pass is $57,
then there is $680 left over for two people, which is $22.67 per day.

This still isn't enough to live on, and so I agree with you that an increase
is appropriate. However, there are a number of caveats to consider.

First, I am not sure that an across-the-board increase is appropriate. Some
areas have lower rent than others. It would make sense to adjust the monthly
benefit according to the average rent in the area. For example, individuals
in Midland would not receive as much as those in Waterloo who would not
receive as much as those in Toronto.

Another caveat is that there are positive incentives associated with keeping
welfare benefits low: it encourages people to take jobs. The higher the
benefits, the lower is the incentive to work especially at low wage jobs.
This may explain why the number of beneficiaries has fallen over time from
733,000 in June of 1998 to 376,000 currently. Of course, the economy has
also been strong over this period and so there are more jobs available. The
U.S. has experimented with timed-limited benefits and had considerable
success at lowering the number of people on social assistance.

Other ways to improve the entry into the work force would include: 1) free
bus passes for all individuals attending training or actively looking for
work; 2) full tuition and book reimbursement for individuals who attend
training or courses. By giving the benefits in-kind rather than in cash, one
can be more confident that the program is not abused.

You mentioned that the minimum wage should probably be raised. I read a very
good argument against that idea recently. If the minimum wage is raised,
then employers will hire fewer low-skill employees. (Supply and demand.)
This will make it harder for youths, immigrants or unskilled people to get
their first job and transition out of the Ontario Works program. However,
there is a work-around. It is called a guaranteed minimum income. The idea
is that all Canadians get a minimum guaranteed income. If they are
unemployed, then the government pays them up to that minimum. It is like a
negative income tax-if you earn income you pay tax and if you don't then you
receive. This has the advantage of not distorting the labour market like a
high minimum wage does. But there is still the issue of the appropriate
level for the guaranteed minimum

The irritating thing is that total government budgets are so huge now that
there is easily enough money in the system to guarantee everyone a generous
minimum. Unfortunately, much of the money does not end up in the hands of
the poor. It goes out as corporate welfare, it is wasted on boon-doggles
like the gun registry, or it is transferred to middle and upper class
individuals who don't need it.

Associate Professor

School of Business and Economics

Wilfrid Laurier University
Dear Professor,

Thank you for your comments and attention to this issue.
In our flyer we said that 700000 people including 200000 children rely on social assistance in Ontario. This figure includes ODSP which is an equally important program that also needs to be addressed. For the purpose of this initiative we though it would be more practical for people to try to experience living on Ontario Works rather than trying to fake a disability for a week.

The statistic is from:
The formal Government Report to
The Honourable Sandra Pupatello,
Minister of Community & Social Services
Review of:
Employment Assistance Programs
in Ontario Works & Ontario Disability
Support Program

which can be found here.

We believe that the figure of 300000+ living on OW is still a mojor issue because they are living on appallingly low income levels.

Also the $335 is the housing allowance given to individuals on Ontario Works, this is a component of the $536, the remaining being the $201 for food, clothing, and everything else. The only accommodations one could acquire following this rate of $335 would be in a rooming or boarding house where they would have a single room usually with a single bed.

If one had dependents they would of course need more than this. If they were to qualify for social housing (Subsidized) and get past the wait lists, they would still be spending well over $335 for a two bedroom apartment. This would leave them with of course much less than the $22.67 /day for two people that you have suggested. This is of course inadequate.

For the purpose of our campaign, we chose to use the single individual amounts with no dependents in order to make it more feasible for people to participate (by reducing impacts to any of the family members of those participating).

If the housing allowance was based on the average rental rates then for a single person it would have to be at lease $427/month for Waterloo Region. It is obviously not that right now.

To address the caveats you mentioned including incentives for employment:
Many people on Ontario works do not work for many reasons; lack of education, training, undiagnosed mental health issues, social isolation, etc. Another is the lack of availability of affordable childcare which you did not mention. This effects many single parents throughout Ontario.

As for the minimum wage issue, I too recently read an interesting article that said “Raising the minimum wage will create a demand for more goods and services”. (When people have more money they spend it). “To keep the minimum wage in line with rising costs is an act of economic justice. The only jobs that might be lost would be those of economists who have, in the past, made the debate over the minimum wage a source of their perennial employment.”

Mazur, J. (1995). The minimum wage revisited. Challenge, 38(4), 23.

The problem is that the cost of living has increased and the wages and salaries have also increased in many other levels of the market except for the minimum wage. It is the minimum wage that is behind.

I do agree that a minimum guaranteed income program would be a major step forward in the area of social security policy.

As for an increase in minimum wage leading to less hiring of low-skilled employees, a universal pay rate change will not change people’s job descriptions or their quantities in the labour market. It will still be the same market of people working at these job levels. As for the skill level of immigrants, in this country most of our immigrants are extremely high skilled (due to our point system of immigration) and are forced to take low-paying, low-skilled jobs (because when they get here they often are not hired because they lack “Canadian” experience or need more English language training).

Thanks again for your comments and attention to this issue.


Ameil J. Joseph

Friday, March 16, 2007

New comments

I want to thank all of you for taking the challenge, and coming up with this idea to create awareness on a subject that most people have no clue about.Those of us who know what it is like to be in such a valurnable situation, are grateful. I am very touched that you all have decided to do this. I am glad to be a part of your campaign to raise awareness of the conditions in which people live when in receipt of social assistance, by posting my e-mail. I have also told a few mothers like myself, about what you are doing. Although not all of them are not as outspoken as I, they are very appreciative of your sacrfice in order to raise awareness on a subject that has been over looked for far to long.

Can you believe this is the way in which people and their children in Canada live? Do you know what kind of horrible conditions people live in as far as affordable housing? Do you know single mothers are at risk for having their children taken away because of the horrible housing conditions people live in when trying to survive on Ontario Works? Do you know that single mothers on social assistance are often targeted by Family and Children's Services because low income single mothers are considered to be high risk? I know mothers who stay with abusive husbands and boyfriends because there is no way to survive on Welfare. The low payments made to people while on social assistance keep people from leaving abusive situations!

Shouldn't the Canadian Government take some kind of accountability for the conditions in which children and their parents when relying on Ontario Works as their source of income? Somebody should take accountability!

I am sorry but this subject is near and dear to my heart because of all I went through while on social assistance.

May I make a suggestion? Something I would like you to also consider, the humiliation of going to an appointment at the Region of Waterloo to apply for social assistance, after the initial phone application. Yet another humiliating situation to endure is going for an annual review to continue you eligibly of Ontario Works. Both appointments are very intense and intrusive, as well as very emotionally damaging. You have to sign papers allowing Social services to communicate with Revenue Canada in regards to your tax assessments. You have to show all your bank statements, rent receipts, all your bills, and any outstanding debts. I was called in for an annual review after I was working as a temp at a temp agency. Temporary agencies require you to show up for work each and every day or you will be replaced. I was told I had to come in for an annual review, I explained that if I missed work to come in for this appointment that I would loose my placement. I was only making $7.45 per hr so I was still eligible for a very small amount from Ontario Works; I believe it was $2.00 a month as well as a drug benefit card. I was told if I didn't come in I would no longer be eligible for Ontario Works. In the end I choose to go to work and keep what little dignity I still had left. It was tough making ends meet on $7.45 per hr working as a temp, but I just couldn't allow myself to be humiliated any longer.

There was a mother who killed herself and her unborn baby because of a ban from ever collecting welfare again due to fraud. Here is the link. Her name was Kimberly Rogers and may she rest in peace. http://dawn.thot.net/Kimberly_Rogers/kria127.html

I hope that none of you has to rely on Ontario Works as your source of income. It is a very tough thing to go through. You loose your self confidence, your pride, and your health both mentally and physically deteriorates. That is something I would not wish upon anybody. I have not been in receipt of social assistance since December of 2004. I hope I never have to endure that again in my life time.

You are trying to make a difference and that is remarkable. Please keep up your efforts! You have my support.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Support from Ray of Hope


How’s it going? I checked out your attachment and I’m going to take up your challenge! I’m also going to forward it to our Oasis volunteers and the Ray of Hope Senior Management team. It’s a great idea! I’m happy to hear you’re almost done your schooling! What’s the next step for you?

Rev. Colin Wallace
Director of Volunteers
Ray of Hope
PO Box 1652
37 Market Lane
Kitchener ON
N2G 4R7
Office (519) 744-2794
Cell (519) 501-3400
Fax (519) 744-1267

"Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."

Mother Theresa

..Some Debate

(An Email Response to the Article in the Record on March 8, 2007)

Good afternoon Jennie,

I just read your article in the Kitchener Record "Try surviving on 36 bucks a week".

I do agree that it would be almost impossible to survive on this amount. However, we have recipients of Ontario Works who could work at a minimum wage job but choose not to.

As a single mom with 2 small children , no vehicle to get to and from work, and no subsidy for child care, I chose to receive social assistance while my sons were still home . I did, however, get a part time job and pay child care expenses myself, to supplement my income. At that time, the $25.00/week I rec'd from the boys father was deducted from my social assistance, so we continued to live at the proverty line.
I know of so many cases of young women and men, with no children, bragging about applying for and receivng Ontario Works . Bipolar Disorder seems to be the condition of the year . They are not held responsible for taking medication to help with their disorder so they could become employable. I really believe we are a very enabling society.I have seen with my own eyes, these young people receive their Ontario Works and head to the liquor store or drug dealer. There are people out there who do need the assistance and I believe it's great that it's there for people who need temporary or permanent assistance. I still think able bodied people should be made to show up somewhere for 30 or more hours a week to work to receive their Ontario Works. I bet in no time they would take those minimum wage jobs.
How about giving the recipients 400 a week to live on,once they've put in 40 hours of work, and maybe give them some incentive to actually get a job.
Why are there 700,000 people in Ontario receiving assistance when there are job vacancies?

I did live on next to nothing for a long time, chose to have a better life, went back to school and have been employed for over 20 years full time, paying my taxes and giving people who could be working, the opportunity to complain about not getting enough money . They should be going to the food bank.
Perhaps if there is an increase in OntarioWorks, I can quit my job, create a disorder where I can't work and enjoy the summer !
There are two sides to every story!
The numbers are going up , not down.

(Jennie's Reply)

Dear Commenter

Thank you for your response to our project about OW. We ( the four students that are conducting the project) really appreciate hearing from your personal experience. It sounds like you struggled and survived supporting your children through difficult circumstances.

I agree with you that some people abuse the availability of OW but I believe that they are the minority. Most people that receive OW would prefer to be working but can't find a job because they don't have the skills or education, they have not been in the labour force for years (stay at home moms), and they have no Canadian work experience or education or know English sufficiently for most jobs (refugees and immigrants). I agree that able bodied people should be working 30-40 hours per week. Again, I believe most people would want to find a job that would give them that number of hours. The problem is that many jobs are part-time or contract, providing temporary solutions to unemployment, with no benefits. The problem is not that people aren't motivated to work, although a minority of people may not be, but that job training has been insufficient, minimum wage jobs provide insufficient resources to live on (also needs to be raised), and intelligent, well-educated people
from other countries do not get recognized as professionals and have to start from the bottom, after possibly having survived war, been separated from their culture, and separated from their social network. By raising OW to a level that provides sufficient money to survive, many of the people receiving OW would have an easier time making it into the work force. They would have less stress about how they will be able to feed their family for the month and could concentrate more on how they will develop their job skills to find work.

As for people with Bipolar Disorder, they should be receiving ODSP, not OW, in which case they would and should be receiving more money. I've been helping people who have been dependent on OW but should be receiving ODSP instead, to fill out the lengthy applications for ODSP. 25% of ODSP application are accepted in the first stage and these are the extreme cases. People who have severe depression have a difficult time receiving ODSP, as well as people who have Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar disorder is not an excuse for not working, it is legitimately impairing for the individual, especially if they have tried numerous medications that have not worked for them. To violate someone's right to refuse medication and treatment for Bipolar Disorder is actually against the Human Right's Code.

Some questions I have for you are: Who are these kids that are living off of OW and spending all of their money to get drugs and alcohol, or sell drugs and alcohol? What possible violence have they experienced in their homes or in the schools? Is their use of drugs and alcohol an action they use to self-medicate themselves from depression? Would giving these kids more money allow them to get more drugs or alcohol and would the drugs and alcohol that they could buy with this money be better quality and thus less dangerous? If these kids had more money would they be less likely to steal money from innocent victims in the street?
My most important question for you is: Would you really quit your job to receive Ontario Works if it paid 23 000 a year instead of 6 000?
Thank you again for your response! I hope that I have not offended you in any way but have been able to challenge your view as you have challenged mine.

Sincerely, Jennie Buerkle
P.S. Please let me know if you would like some resources that support my answers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Day Two...

This is a little on the brutal side....

I had two peanut butter sandwiches and some Mr Noodle both yesterday and today. I feel just bad. I'm exhausted, I have no energy. I think I may have to splurge on an orange or something tomorrow. Imagine the long term effects on my health if I ate this crap all the time. I was walking to my girlfriend's place after class and I almost keeled over. I looked at the nutritional info on the back of the package and it was almost all salt and fat.

What if I had a headache and needed an asprin? What if I run out of something like toothpaste, or shampoo? I'm struggling just to feed myself for the week and get to school and back.

I'm hungry..


Sunday, March 11, 2007

In the News....

There's one typo:
"University of Waterloo social work masters students" = Wilfrid Laurier University Master of Social Work students..

Do you have our booklet? email me for a copy: jose2336@wlu.ca

OW Campaign Supporter

I gradutaed college in May of 2002 two months before I gave birth to my son. I was on Ontario works after my OSAP ran out. I had a small for date baby boy. I lived on around $580 a month paying $500 for rent each month. I beleive my son was small because I was living on such a little amount of money while pregnant. I had my son in July 2002. I started to get a bit more money from welfare but it was still tough. I remember calling my worker at welfare, I told her that it was really hard to live on that money, I was crying. I asked her if there was anything she could do to help me. She replied that if I didn't calm down she was going to call Familly and Childrens services on me. I couldn't beleive she said that.
Once I started to receive child support from my sons father welfare started to deduct the total amount received for child support from my monthly cheque. So I was no better off.
My point is good for you for trying to raise awareness about the conditions in which people on welfare live. Not only do people live on a small income but they often face bad treatment because of being on welfare. So I will not take the challenge because I have already been there but thank you for raising awareness.

Ow Campaign Supporter
(In response to the Campaign)

Surviving on Ontario Works what a laugh

Hi ya Jennie ..... I've been on OW since last march ...
I get $420.00 to survive on it has gone up to $430.00 a month.
$400.00 of that goes to pay room and board,
but I get to spend the rest on tooth picks and water lol.

I am living with my ageing parents, who are not in very good shape by the way, so I'm soon to be homeless.
I have been looking for a new job since I can not work in the industrial area of jobs anymore ,
I have Rheumatoid Arthritis in my body which shuts down my hands anytime it wants.
So I'm looking in the home depot TSC stores clerk type work but it doesn't pay a lot.

As far as getting the politicians into this challenge good luck with that,
maybe at the same time you can make them all put on oven mitts, and make them do their daily job,
but they cannot take the mitts off or they are out of the challenge.
That is what Rheumatoid Arthritis is like for me when it is very bad.
When it is good I can get dressed in under 1 hour and hold a fork to eat.
I do get to go to the food back once a month,
which is not that good since the food runs out in a few days but at least I get food to eat.

I find it sad that the Government has been sitting on their hands,
and the funds for affordable housing to the tune of $200 million or so for the past few years.
I also find they ( Politicians ) can give them selves a 25 % raise,
and only give the people on OW a 2 % raise which is an extra $20.00 per month.
I want to know where the other 23 % is and why we never got it?.
Maybe you can ask them for me since they never answer me back.

Sorry but if this ever makes it into the papers maybe then the Government will get off their hands and do it right.

OW Campaign Supporter
(in response to the article in the KW Record on March 8, 2007)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Welcome to the OW Campaign Blog!!!

I think this is going to be a little harder than I initially thought. But I'm sure gonna let my MP and MPP know how difficult it is to live on $5.14/day!

Don't forget to empty you purses or wallets Sunday the 11 (except for 36$).