Provincial budget reveals no plan for cutting the social deficit

By Josh Brandon, chair of Make Poverty History Manitoba
(A version of this article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press, April 19, 2017)

Low income Manitobans were hoping that this year’s budget would offer a plan to help lift them out of poverty. A well-funded strategy with targets and timelines for its implementation and for reducing poverty would give Manitobans confidence that their government is making poverty reduction a top priority. However, despite promising last year that a comprehensive poverty reduction plan would be introduced in Budget 2017, the government has pushed the updated strategy back to the end of the year.

Without a strategy, the budget leaves many questions unanswered, but some of the details that have emerged are distressing. Social housing investments are stalled with $20 million cut from the operating grant to Manitoba Housing Renewal Corporation. Low income workers may see no increase in minimum wage for a second year. There will be more than 500 new child care spaces, but investments here need to be ramped up much faster. As at this rate, it will take 30 years to make up the existing gap in needed child care services.

One bright light in the budget is that the Rent Assist program is being been maintained, and will be continue to be indexed according to inflation, meaning shelter benefits will continue to be available for low income households, including those receiving Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) and working poor and others not on EIA. However, even while making this commitment, Finance Minister Cameron Friesen signalled possible future cuts, warning, “over the next year, we will be reviewing the Rent Assist program to make sure that available benefits are reaching those most in need.” For Manitobans who depend on the program to obtain adequate accommodation, talk of restructuring is concerning.

In the meantime, there is no increase in EIA benefits to cover basic needs.  A single individual on general assistance will still receive as little as $195 per month for food, clothing, transportation and other necessities, with a total income of just over half the Market Basket Measure of poverty. This is an amount hunger advocates have shown provides less than four dollars per day for food, less than half of what is needed for a healthy diet.

Despite no increase in the basic needs benefit, the Budget increases EIA spending overall by $87 million, a 20 per cent increase over 2016. The lion’s share of this increase, as much as three quarters of this spending, will be to cover anticipated increases in caseloads volumes. We are looking for clarification from the department about what is causing these dramatic increases. From the budget, it appears that the government is anticipating an historic rise in the number of new EIA recipients. Higher projected EIA enrollment, without improved benefits, will leave thousands more Manitobans at a subsistence level of income.

These EIA figures are a reflection of the urgent need to develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy. Such a strategy should be based on meaningful consultations with community groups and people with lived experience of poverty. It should include investments in housing, child care, mental health, education and training, and community development – priorities already identified through the community-based plan, The View From Here. In the absence of a plan, families are more vulnerable to changes in the economy. Last year, unemployment averaged above 6 per cent for the first time since 1997, driving more families to rely on EIA as a stop gap. Not investing in poverty reduction is neither prudent, nor fiscally sustainable.

Curiously, Budget 2017 identifies indexing of tax brackets and the Basic Personal Exemption as a poverty reduction tool. This will do little to help low income Manitobans, at great cost to the public treasury, while costing $34.1 million. It is higher income Manitobans will receive a disproportionate benefit. There is no plan to replace this lost revenue to government. Some low income households will not benefit at all, while others will get up to $15 annually. Tax measures will do little to tackle the root causes of poverty, and are orders of magnitude below what is needed to help lift people out of poverty.

The Province is also betting that Social Impact Bonds will provide a tool for poverty reduction.  Social Impact Bonds are financial instruments that leverage private sector investment for social purposes. They have been used only sporadically internationally and across Canada. Their record so far has been spotty, with little evidence of their effectiveness. Moreover, there are very few details available about how these instruments will be structured. Until this is clarified, Social Impact Bonds can offer only minimal hope to low income families.

In this year’s budget, the government has focused its concern on Manitoba’s debt. Debt, however should not been managed on the backs of the most vulnerable. This year’s budget also once again demonstrates the futility of cutting the fiscal deficit without regard for the much deeper social deficit, which weighs so heavily on major budget lines like health, justice and child welfare.

Without a clear strategy for poverty reduction, too much effort will continue to be wasted on one-off programs without a clear method for evaluating their effectiveness. However, people in poverty will need to wait another year for the plan they have been anticipating.

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How Can Winnipeg Reduce Poverty?

Help Us Tell Mayor and Council What Matters

The City of Winnipeg needs a poverty plan. Other cities have one. Come out and tell us what must be included in a poverty reduction plan for Winnipeg.

Your input will inform the development of a community led poverty reduction plan for Winnipeg guided by Make Poverty History Manitoba, a broad coalition of groups working to end poverty in our province.

The event is free and there will be light snacks and refreshments. Contact us if you need childminding, bus tickets, or other accommodation. info@spcw.mb.ca or (204) 943-2561

Tuesday, March 21, 6-8pm
Millennium Library
Carol Shields Auditorium
251 Donald Street

Thursday, March 23, 6-8pm
Aboriginal Education Directorate
Murdo Scribe Centre
510 Selkirk Ave

Tuesday, April 4, 6-8pm
Charleswood Library
6-4910 Roblin Blvd

Thursday, April 6, 6-8pm
Pembina Trails Library
2724 Pembina Hwy

You can also participate by filling in the attached survey: Winnipeg survey and demographics and sending to: info@spcw.mb.ca

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Poverty Reduction Plan for Winnipeg – Community Engagments

How Can Winnipeg Reduce Poverty?
Help Us Tell Mayor and Council What Matters
 
The City of Winnipeg needs a poverty plan. Come out and tell us what must be included in a poverty reduction plan for Winnipeg.
 
Your input will inform the development of a community led poverty reduction plan for Winnipeg guided by Make Poverty History Manitoba, a broad coalition of groups working to end poverty in our province. 
 
There will be four community engagements:
Tuesday, March 21, 6-8 pm
Millennium Library – Carol Shields Auditorium
251 Donald Street

Thursday, March 23, 6-8 pm
Aboriginal Education Directorate – Murdo Scribe Centre
510 Selkirk Ave

Tuesday, April 4, 6-8 pm
Charleswood Library
6-4910 Roblin Blvd

Thursday, April 6, 6-8 pm
Pembina Trails Library
2724 Pembina Hwy

The events are free and there will be light snacks and refreshments. Contact us if you need childminding, bus tickets, or other accommodation
info@spcw.mb.ca or (204) 943-2561
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Manitoba government falls behind on poverty commitments: no strategy in place for Budget 2017

Winnipeg, MB – February 21, 2017

During the April 12, 2016 televised election debate, Brian josh-brandon-feb-21-2017-press-conferencePallister stated that “poverty is the number one issue for us in our province.” (CBC, Manitoba Leaders Debate: at 35:50) In the new government’s budget, the government promised a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy starting in Budget 2017. But in a letter to Make Poverty History Manitoba in January, the Finance Minister and Minister of Families did not reiterate a commitment to reducing poverty in Budget 2017. Budget day is approaching there is no draft strategy for review and no community consultations on poverty are planned.

“Time is running out for the premier to live up to his commitment to put a plan for poverty reduction in place for Budget 2017,” said Josh Brandon, chair of Make Poverty History Manitoba. “Without a strategy, poverty in Manitoba will deepen leaving the most vulnerable Manitobans in poor housing, with higher incidence of poverty-related disease, and with inadequate incomes to purchase food and other basic necessities.”

Make Poverty History Manitoba launched a public campaign on November 16, 2016, calling on the province to work with the coalition to develop a comprehensive strategy including targets and timelines for poverty reduction and an increase in the EIA basic needs benefit. More than 100 organizations have endorsed this proposal.

In the letter to Make Poverty History Manitoba in January, the Province indicated its strategy for addressing poverty would focus on “harnessing Manitobans generosity through the development of Social Impact Bonds”. Elsewhere it has proposed tax cuts, and increasing the basic personal exemption, as measures for reducing poverty. Make Poverty History Manitoba has raised concerns to government that these measures are insufficient, lack comprehensiveness and do not meet the priorities already identified by people working with and living in poverty.

“Tax cuts and one-off programs that rely on the generosity of Manitobans are not enough to combat poverty. Government should maintain Rent Assist, provide an immediate boost to EIA to lift the most vulnerable Manitobans closer to the poverty line and implement a comprehensive plan with targets and timelines for cutting poverty. People living in poverty shouldn’t have to depend on charity and can’t wait for future budget cycles. Government needs to take responsibility and act” said Brandon.

Make Poverty History Manitoba has endorsed The View from Here 2015: Manitobans call for a renewed poverty reduction plan. This plan represents the priorities of Manitobans most closely linked to poverty. It calls for action on key priorities including housing, income security, childcare, education, support for community-based organizations, food security, transportation, disability supports, health, and child welfare. It provides a blueprint of what a comprehensive poverty reduction plan should contain. Implementing the View from Here is one of the recommendations from the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry, to improve social conditions and prevent tragedies like this from occurring in the future.

The Manitoba government is required under the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act to implement a long-term strategy to reduce poverty and increase social inclusion across Manitoba. It is also required to report publicly on progress in its budget papers. A five-year review of the current strategy is mandated to be completed by May 2017.

Backgrounder: Manitoba Poverty Legislation Backgrounder

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Make Poverty History Manitoba Fundraising concert

mphm-facebookMarch 16, 2017: Doors 7:15 pm, show starts at 8 pm.
West End Cultural Centre
586 Ellice Avenue, Winnipeg, MB

Make Poverty History Manitoba is proud to announce our first-ever awareness-raiser and fundraiser, featuring:
JD and the Sunshine Band
Ila Barker
Bubba B the MC
Leaf Rapids
Riel Gentlemen’s Choir
Hosted by Nadia Kidwai from CBC Manitoba

Let us know if you our coming on our Facebook event page, and please share!

Tickets $20 in advance; $25 at the door
Online at Ticketfly.com or at West End Cultural Centre
Student tickets: $10 at University of Winnipeg/Info Booth and University of Manitoba/Answers
Low income & looking for a ticket? Please call Social Planning Council of Winnipeg: 204-943-2561 ext 229 or visit 432 Ellice Ave from 9 am – 5 pm, MondayFriday.

mphm-alternate-logos-smallMake Poverty History Manitoba is a coalition of non-profit, faith, labour and business groups working to end poverty in our province. www.kNOwpoverty.ca

Music has the power to bring people together and focus public attention on the critical issue of poverty in Manitoba. Much of Make Poverty History Manitoba’s work is done through in-kind donations of time and resources, but funds are also needed for events and materials to advance social justice and end poverty in Manitoba.

Thank you to our sponsors*:
Amalgamated Transit Union 1505 Manitoba
Assiniboine Credit Union
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba
Canadian Community Economic Development Network – Manitoba
Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba
Hardwood Designs
Manitoba Federation of Labour
Manitoba Government Employees Union
Social Planning Council of Winnipeg
UFCW Local 832
West End Cultural Centre

*More sponsors welcome! Please contact manitoba@makepovertyhistory.ca

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Raise EIA rates as part of comprehensive poverty plan

Support our campaign to ask the Province to develop an increase in the EIA basic needs benefit as part of a comprehensive plan to address poverty.

We want as many groups to sign on as possible, please let us know if your group would like to join us (current list of endorsing organizations).

We are seeking your support for our campaign to ask the Province to take two concrete actions towards ending poverty in this year’s budget. Firstly, the Province should develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy in consultation with community members. Critically, this strategy must include targets and timelines for poverty reduction. If we do not have a vision for where we are going, we will never arrive at our goal. Secondly, the plan must include an immediate increase to the EIA basic needs budget of Manitobans living in the deepest poverty. Single individuals and persons with disabilities suffer the most, with respective incomes 47 and 32 per cent below the poverty line. We call on the Province to create a benefit that will raise the incomes of all Manitobans to at least 75 per cent of the the poverty line.

See our campaign document at: EIA Campaign Backgrounder. We are looking for organizations to support the campaign. If you endorse the campaign, please send us an email at manitoba@makepovertyhistory.ca

Please contact me if you want more information about how to support the campaign.  We would be pleased to meet with you or your board if want more information about the campaign.  A representative of the campaign will be calling your organization within the next few weeks to answer any questions you have. Thanks for all your support.  Together we can end poverty in Manitoba!

Josh Brandon, chair, Make Poverty History Manitoba

Key media articles about the campaign launch

josh-brandon-at-legislature-nov-17-2016-metroWinnipeg Free Press, Nov 24, 2016: Throne speech ignored poverty
Winnipeg Sun, Nov 16, 2016: Raise social assistance rates: lobby group
Winnipeg Metro, Nov 16, 2016: Groups call on Manitoba to release poverty-ending plan, bolster EIA
CBC, Nov 14, 2016: Manitoba tax changes do little for low income people, argues Molly McCracken
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba also published a Fast Facts about the campaign: Community looking for action plan from Province on povertyWe also did radio interviews on CBC, CJOB, ICI Radio-Canada and CKUW.
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Raise EIA Basic Needs Budget

Make Poverty History Manitoba is partnering with community groups to ask the Provincial government to raise EIA basic needs rates.

As part of a new comprehensive poverty reduction and social inclusion plan, we call on the Government of Manitoba to increase the basic needs benefit in Budget 2017. EIA’s basic needs budget has hardly increased in two decades. While the cost of living has gone up by more than 40 percent, EIA rates have remained stagnant. Far too many people in Manitoba live in deep poverty; some with incomes at 47% below the poverty line.

Hunger Free ManitobaOne of the coalitions we are partnering with is Hunger Free Manitoba. They are a coalition of faith communities calling on the government of Manitoba to help those who are most vulnerable. See their campaign at: hungerfreemb.ca

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