The 2024 federal budget presents an important opportunity for the Government of Canada to make substantial progress on its poverty reduction goals. Action in this area is desperately needed, much overdue, and depends on meaningful investments.
Across Canada, and in Toronto in particular, too many residents are struggling to make ends meet and afford the cost of living. Even though Toronto is one of the wealthiest cities in the world and contributes 21 percent towards Canada’s GDP, more than 1 in 5 residents live in poverty.1 The Government of Canada must do its part to ensure that Toronto is a place of prosperity and belonging.
Toronto, like many other municipalities in Canada, spends money on services that are extensions of federal (and provincial) responsibilities. The federal government recently recognized this by delivering much-needed funding to Toronto to support refugees and asylum seekers experiencing homelessness through the Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP) and to support low-income renters through the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB). We are encouraged by this increased investment in Toronto and look forward to further enhancements in the next budget.
For the 2024 federal budget, Social Planning Toronto calls for investments in three critical areas:
- Increase federal funding for the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit,
- Pay the federal share for new subway trains in Toronto, and
- Fully fund the Canada Disability Benefit.
1. Increase federal funding for the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit
Tackling Canada’s housing crisis is a top concern for many residents, especially in Toronto. The cost of rent makes up the single largest monthly expense for many households. As of January 2024, the average “asking rent” for a one-bedroom apartment is $2521 per month in Toronto. About 10,600 people have been actively homeless in Toronto over the past three months.
The Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB) has helped many households weather this storm. It is an important program that provides monthly financial assistance directly to eligible households so people can stay housed or move out of homelessness. As a portable benefit, it helps recipients pay rent in the private market by covering the difference between 30 percent of the household’s income and the average market rent in the area.
The program is so desperately needed that last year the City of Toronto exhausted its annual allotment by May. Ottawa’s recent announcement of almost $20 million to top-up the City's share of the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit is welcome. These extra funds are expected to provide stable housing for 2,000 people, but further investment is needed to help more residents endure the housing crisis and fulfill the government’s commitment to the right to housing. We urge the Government of Canada to continue on this path and further increase funding through COHB for the City of Toronto in the 2024 federal budget.
2. Pay the federal share for new subway trains in Toronto
Reliable, affordable, and safe public transit is fundamental for any well-functioning city. Public transit boosts productivity and drives economic activity. It also has household, community, and environmental benefits. Investing in Toronto’s public transit system helps to address poverty by connecting people to work, school, and services. As the economic engine of Canada, the federal government has a responsibility to support the maintenance and growth of Toronto’s public transportation system.
The subway trains on Line 2 are reaching the end of their life. A recent TTC staff report warns that less reliable subway service and more crowded trains are on the horizon if aging subway trains on Line 2 are not replaced. The TTC also needs additional new trains to accommodate forecasted growth on Line 1. A total of $3.2 billion is needed for a combined 80 trains.
As part of the New Deal with the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario has committed to providing $758 million for 55 new subway trains for Line 2 on the condition that the City of Toronto and the Government of Canada chip in their share. The City has confirmed its willingness to match these funds. We ask the federal government to commit to paying for the federal portion of this critical infrastructure. Confirmation of funding is particularly time sensitive as the cost of replacing aging Line 2 trains could increase dramatically if it is not done by early 2024, and require costly measures to extend the life of aging trains and systems. Additionally, demand for Line 1 is expected to rise as the population grows and new developments around Line 1 are completed. To keep up with this demand, 25 new trains are also needed for Line 1.
We urge the Government of Canada to help fund the $3.2 billion that is needed for transit infrastructure in Toronto.
3. Fully fund the Canada Disability Benefit
In June 2023, the federal government took a monumental step in the fight to end poverty by passing Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act (CDB). People with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty, and one in seven people who access food banks in Canada rely on provincial disability income supports. People with disabilities face barriers and additional costs which contribute to these disproportionately high rates of poverty.
To make a meaningful difference, this program needs to be inclusive, fully funded, and available to those with all types of disabilities. Given the historically high cost of living and an affordable housing crisis, the federal government must act quickly to get money into the pockets of people with disabilities. Alongside our partner organizations, we recommend that $10-12 billion be allocated annually to fund the Canada Disability Benefit pending eligibility criteria. This assumes between 800,000-1 million eligible recipients receiving $800-$1000 monthly on average with regional variation.
As part of the 2024 Budget process, we urge the Government of Canada to fully fund the Canada Disability Benefit and develop it with urgency. This benefit has the potential to make significant improvements in the lives of people with disabilities in Toronto and across Canada.
Call for Action
Despite an abundance of wealth and opportunities, Toronto has one of the highest poverty rates among urban centres in Canada. Action and investment is required from each level of government to address this and set Toronto back on the path to being an affordable, liveable, and world-class city.
It is crucial that the Government of Canada use the 2024 Budget to invest in poverty reduction, particularly in Toronto, with funding specifically for the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit, new subway trains in Toronto, and by fully funding the new Canada Disability Benefit.
Thanks to our partners who also put forward pre-budget submissions and policy analysis, and inspired parts of our work. Check out the following resources to learn more and add your voice to relevant campaigns:
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - Alternative Federal Budget 2024
Toronto Environmental Alliance - Tell Your MP Toronto Needs Climate Action Funding!
Daily Bread Food Bank - We need a fully funded Canada Disability Benefit!
1. as measured by the CFLIM-AT; Source: Table I-13 - Individual data - After-tax low income status of tax filers and dependents (census family low income measure, CFLIM-AT) for couple and lone parent families by family composition, 2021.↩