No Poverty Reduction Strategy in Speech from the Throne

https://news.gov.mb.ca/asset_library/featured_news/throne-speech-2017.jpgTuesday morning, I received a phone call from a Make Poverty History Manitoba member. He lives on a disability benefit that provides him only $180 per month for food and other basic necessities. He wanted to know if he can expect any change soon. I told him we would see in the Speech from the Throne that afternoon what, if anything, the Province has planned for its long-promised poverty reduction strategy.

I am afraid I will need to phone him back to say there was no mention of a poverty reduction strategy. Although the Province has promised to begin consultations soon, the government did not commit to timelines or targets as to how quickly it would end poverty. There were no commitments on increasing benefits for Manitobans in the deepest poverty who depend on social assistance, some of whom live on incomes as much as 47 percent below the market basket measure of poverty.

The working poor were also left out with no mention of a much-needed increase of minimum wage. At $11.15 per hour, Manitoba’s minimum wage is effectively a poverty wage. By contrast, other provinces, including Ontario, BC and Alberta, are moving towards a minimum wage of $15 per hour.

On the positive side, the “government recognizes that complex social problems like poverty, crime, homelessness, mental health and addiction are interconnected and that causal factors cannot be tackled in isolation.” All the more surprising then that the Province did not take the opportunity to launch a comprehensive plan with targets and timelines for ending poverty.

One area that did receive attention was the urgent need to reduce the number of children in care of Child and Family Services (CFS). We congratulate the government for identifying this difficult policy area as a key issue that must be addressed to significantly reduce poverty in Manitoba. As well as weighing heavily on our justice system as was noted in the speech, evidence shows that involvement in CFS one of the strongest predictors of youth homelessness.

Given that 90 percent of children in care are Indigenous, we urge the government to consult and work closely with Indigenous community. Manitoba must develop and implement effective policies that reduce the number of children in care while breaking the cycle of colonialism which has too long stained child welfare policies across Canada. We agree on the need for innovative solutions, but we are wary of government’s stated preference to rely on social impact bonds, which have demonstrated very limited effectiveness in the few projects where they have been tried elsewhere in Canada.

The Province also promised a strategy to improve access to addiction treatment and mental health. Here again, we are in agreement that this is a priority. Make Poverty History Manitoba championed improved funding for mental health in our Know Poverty campaign last year. However, the province is focused on providing supports in emergency rooms. We have argued we also need more supports upstream in community-based resources where low income people will have the best access.

The Province also announced that they would soon release a provincial housing strategy. Consultations were conducted last year, but we have still not received either a “what we heard” document or a draft plan. In this case, the lack of details is understandable. The Province is waiting on a federal National Housing Strategy released the day after the Manitoba Speech from the Throne. Nonetheless, it would have been useful to outline the direction the Province wishes to take in ensuring all Manitobans are adequately housed.

In order to end poverty in Manitoba, a stronger political will is needed than was demonstrated in the Speech from the Throne. Unfortunately, the lack of political will crosses all party lines, and all levels of government. The alternative throne speeches by the Opposition Liberals and NDP offered few commitments directly related to poverty reduction. Numbers released by Campaign 2000 showed Manitoba has achieved little progress in reducing child poverty since its campaign started in 1989. Child poverty especially affects Indigenous children, one in two of whom in Manitoba live below the poverty line. It is difficult not to see a causal link between these data and the decades of underinvestment by the federal government in health, education, housing and basic infrastructure on First Nations reserves.

Noting the very high number of Manitobans, especially children in poverty, Make Poverty History Manitoba along with Basic Income Manitoba will soon launch a campaign calling for a shift away from EIA towards basic needs supports that are available to all low income Manitobans to lift everyone above the poverty line. This needs to be part of a comprehensive plan with targets and timelines for poverty reduction including housing, childcare, health, education and good jobs. We need all levels of government at the table to realize these plans.

Manitobans have been waiting for years for the Province to deliver on poverty reduction, something Premier Brian Pallister said said was his first priority after his government was elected last spring. The Make Poverty History Manitoba member who called me yesterday, along with 180,000 other Manitobans living in poverty, will unfortunately all have to keep waiting: how much longer remains to be seen.

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Reverse Cuts to Rent Assist and RGI Housing

Dear Supporter,

Earlier this month, we told you about a change in the Rent Assist program that would affect over 7,000 low-income households, reducing benefits by up to $100 month in some cases. We have also learned that thousands of households in subsidized rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing will be subject to higher rents. Both these changes will go into effect on July 1. There is little time to act.

We are asking you to help us reverse this cut in Rent Assist and the rent increases for RGI housing. Please send the attached letter to Premier Brian Pallister, adapting it as needed.

Letters can be sent to

premier@leg.gov.mb.ca
cc:
minfs@leg.gov.mb.ca; minedu@leg.gov.mb.ca; minfin@leg.gov.mb.ca

or Phone: (204) 945-3714

And/or sign our Change.org petition

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Community Report Back on City Poverty Reduction Plan

Tuesday, June 27 at 5:30 PM – 8 PM
Winnipeg Harvest
1085 Winnipeg Ave, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3E 0S2

We Need Your Input!
Join the discussion about what the City of Winnipeg needs in a poverty reduction plan.
Give your feedback on the draft recommendations for 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 by June 22nd.
info@spcw.mb.ca (204) 943-2561

The revised list of draft recommendations is attached and now available to the public to review.

Directions
Driving: Please park in the lot across the street from the Winnipeg Harvest front entrance on Winnipeg Avenue between Specialloy and the Jamaican Centre.
Bus: #19 Red River College via Notre Dame. Get off at McDonald’s (Ingersoll) and take the laneway to Winnipeg Avenue.
Guests in wheelchairs: Winnipeg Harvest is fully accessible by wheelchair through its front entrance.

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Province reducing housing subsidies for 7,000 low-income renters

June 6, 2017

Cuts to the province’s Rent Assist program will hit 7,000 households on July 1. Affected households include low-income renters not receiving EIA (Employment and Income Assistance). The changes will not affect EIA recipients. People who will be hurt by these changes include minimum wage workers, students, newcomers, families and seniors.

While the government has not released the full details of how much the cuts will affect households, calculations based on information provided by the department show that the impacts could be severe. An increase in Rent Assist is mandated under regulation for July 1 each year to account for rising rents. This year instead, families will experience either a cut in benefits or reduction in the planned increase.

For example, a minimum wage earner working full-time is currently eligible to receive approximately $106 per month. Under the existing regulation, this would increase to approximately $136 starting next month. After the anticipated changes take place July 1, the worker will have their benefit cut to only $62 per month.

A single parent with two children living at the market basket measure of the poverty line would see their benefit reduced from $119 currently to only $49 under the new regulation, even as rents have increased significantly.

A median one-bedroom apartment in Winnipeg increased from $806 to $852 per month last year and a three-bedroom apartment went up from $1133 to $1306 per month.

Rent Assist rates for minimum wage worker and families at poverty line

Family type Rent Assistance
Income Current July 1, existing regulation July 1, new regulation Change – new vs old regulation
Single minimum wage worker: (15 and 37.5 hours per week)
$8,580.00 $374.25 $404.25 $362.80 -$41.45
$21,450.00 $106.13 $136.13 $62.50 -$73.63
Single parent; 2 children, at MBM:
$31,611.00 $119.44 $148.19 $49.16 -$99.03
2 parents; 3 children, at MBM:
$35,342.00 $133.71 $263.71 $155.35 -$108.36

These cuts will put affordable housing further out of reach for low-income renters in Manitoba. Rising housing costs in Manitoba mean families have to put more of their money towards rent, leaving less available for food and other necessities. The short timeline for implementing the changes also leaves families with little time to adapt. The Province only informed affected recipients in a letter last week that there would be changes to the program, directing them to contact the department for more information about how these would affect their benefits. The impact of the changes will be reflected in the July Rent Assist cheques that are distributed in late June.

Rent Assist currently provides a vital support for low-income renters not on EIA. One of the goals of the program is to provide a bridge in supports for families and individuals leaving EIA and entering the workforce. Without Rent Assist, new workers risk facing a drop in income as other social assistance benefits decline. Economists have called this effect the “welfare wall”. The changes in the program will reduce the effectiveness of Rent Assist in addressing the welfare wall, making it more difficult for EIA recipients to enter the labour market.

The changes to Rent Assist also run counter to the Province’s long-standing position that Rent Assist is central to the province’s poverty fighting strategy. As recently as last month, Families Minister Scott Fielding took credit for the planned increases to Rent Assist, noting that they have “taken thousands of people, low‑income and vulner­able Manitobans, given them supports that weren’t there before.” Now his government is taking back some of those increases leaving vulnerable Manitobans without the supports they need.

The Province is not releasing how much it plans to save from the changes. In April, the Province estimated that it would cost $12 million to implement the July 1 Rent Assist increase.

Make Poverty History Manitoba is calling on the Province to rescind the proposed regulation change and implement the July 1 increase as currently scheduled.

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Province misses deadline for new poverty reduction strategy

June 1, 2017

The Manitoba government has missed the deadline in fulfilling its legislated responsibility to provide an update of the province’s poverty reduction strategy. 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 and to report publicly on progress in its budget papers. A five-year review of the current strategy was mandated to be completed by May 2017.

“Premier Brian Pallister has called poverty the number one issue facing this province. Yet this government is dragging its heals in updating the province’s poverty reduction plan,” said Josh Brandon, chair of Make Poverty History Manitoba. “The five-year review for the poverty reduction and social inclusion strategy is not just a box to check on the government’s regulatory calendar, but plays a vital evaluation role in making sure we are on the right track and that programs are working the way they are intended.” Over 146,000 Manitobans live below the poverty line; it is time for action to end poverty in Manitoba.

In order to create the new plan, public consultation and engagement is key. To ensure a cooperative process for community consultations, Make Poverty History Manitoba is releasing today its recommendations for community consultations and community engagement on poverty reduction. Make Poverty History Manitoba is advancing five recommendations to ensure a democratic process to develop this critical strategy for Manitoba.  This is an essential part of building an effective strategy to end poverty, increase accountability and transparency, promote public education and build support for the plan. The delay in implementing the review should not be made up by cutting short the consultative process.

“Not only do we not have a plan in place, but community consultations and engagement has not even been announced,” said Brandon. “First and foremost, consultations should begin with talking with people who have experience in poverty and who will be affected by whatever solutions the government puts forward. Also, the plan should not start from scratch but build on community recommendations that are already in place.”

Make Poverty History Manitoba along with more than 100 other organizations endorsed the View From Here: Manitobans Call for a Renewed Poverty Reduction Plan in 2015, a comprehensive community-based poverty reduction plan for Manitoba. The report includes recommendations on income security, food security, housing, child care, mental health, education and training, transportation, disability supports and community development.

Make Poverty History Manitoba is a coalition of groups and individuals working to end poverty in Manitoba.

Background:

Make Poverty History Manitoba Recommendations on Consultation and Engagement

Poverty Reduction Strategy Act Backgrounder

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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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