Last month, we called on the Minister of Finance to address the disparities exacerbated by the pandemic and to prioritize communities and nonprofits by:
- Supporting municipal finances;
- Protecting tenants and increasing the supply of adequate housing;
- Financing and improving access to essential public services and programs;
- Supporting workers; and
- Investing in the nonprofit sector.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy presented the 2021 Ontario budget – Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy. It is the Province’s $186 billion-dollar plan for stimulating Ontario’s economy and jumpstarting our long journey towards recovery.
In a nutshell, this year’s provincial budget focuses on health and economic recovery. The Government of Ontario is funding short-term benefits, grants, and temporary tax credits for families and businesses, and is investing in health care and tourism.
So, what’s the good news and bad news for Toronto residents, communities, and nonprofits from this second provincial pandemic budget?
Supporting municipal finances
Good news: This year, the Province is dedicating $1 billion to municipalities as part of the Safe Restart Agreement — $350 million of this will go to the City of Toronto. This much needed financial support will significantly reduce the City's $708 million funding gap for 2021.
Bad news: The 2021 Ontario Budget does not earmark funds for social housing in Toronto. With federal support, the City has secured nearly 1,250 new supportive housing units for people experiencing homelessness. 1,100 of these units still require operating funds by next month to open on time.
Protecting tenants and increasing the supply of adequate housing
Good news: The Province is dedicating $225 million to municipal service managers and Indigenous program partners to immediately respond to rising COVID-19 cases in shelters.
The Government of Ontario plans to spend $18.5 million over three years on the Transitional Housing Support Program, which supports survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking in finding and maintaining affordable housing.
In addition, for the next three years, the Province is earmarking $13 million to help people with disabilities access community housing. The budget also includes funding to expand the Adult Protective Service Worker program to help persons with disabilities to live independently.
Bad news: The budget didn’t include any actions to protect tenants — the Province has not taken a rights-based approach to housing. Many residents across Ontario, and especially in Toronto, urgently require targeted rent relief and support, rent control, and strong eviction prevention measures.
In calling for federal support for housing through the National Housing Strategy, the Province took a 'pass' on its responsibility to address severe housing pressures. We are in the midst of a housing crisis. We need our provincial government to provide strong and proactive leadership in providing affordable, accessible, and adequate housing, not wait for the federal government.
Financing and improving access to essential public services and programs
Good news: The provincial government is providing money for families to help offset expenses during the pandemic. Families will receive a third round of payments from the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit, which allots $400 for each child and $500 for each child with special needs.
Additionally, for 2021, the Province is offering a one-time 20 per cent top-up to the Childcare Access and Relief From Expenses (CARE) tax credit of about $250 more per child.
Bad news: These measures are temporary and will not provide long-term relief for low-income families. Instead of $400 cheques, families need better access to affordable and quality services within their communities.
While the new funding is targeted at children and families, the provincial budget did little to support the child care and education sectors in providing the best care and education for our children. Toronto’s childcare centres are struggling during the pandemic and urgently need help.
Simply put, the budget doesn’t tackle issues of low income and affordability of essential services. Many Ontarians struggle to meet their basic needs. Low-income residents can’t get to work or access services if they can’t afford expensive transit costs. They can’t support their local businesses and help kick-start the recovery if they don’t have the cash to make purchases.
Although Ontario is in the midst of a Social Assistance Transformation, social assistance benefits remain unchanged in this year’s provincial budget. While there was hope for Ontario to follow in the footsteps of Nova Scotia and British Columbia – both of which announced increases in social assistance rates in their spring budgets – our provincial government was noticeably silent on the topic. Instead, they chose to keep many Ontarians in deep poverty.
Good news: The Province is extending wage enhancement for over 147,000 workers who provide personal support services until June 30, 2021.
Additionally, Ontarians between the ages of 26 and 65 will be able to apply for up to $2000 per recipient to pay for half of eligible training expenses, as part of the new 2021 Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit.
Bad news: Even though the Government of Ontario has committed financial support for enhancing the wages of thousands of personal support workers, it is clear that the Province has shortchanged many other essential workers.
For example, the announced wage enhancement for personal support workers doesn’t apply to all frontline workers who provide essential support in high risk settings. And, the funding increase is only guaranteed for the first half of this year.
Moreover, the 2021 Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit requires an unemployed worker, who is seeking to upskill, to find money upfront to cover the costs of job training. This approach will force many to make tough choices between upgrading their skills and paying for their increasing day to day costs of rent, food, and transit.
Ontarians need good jobs with good wages. Essential workers need to be compensated properly and fairly. Sadly, the ongoing call to raise the minimum wage to $15 for all workers in Ontario still goes unanswered and those workers fall further and further behind.
Good jobs also means paid sick days and paid leave. The need for paid sick days is not addressed in this year’s Ontario budget. In addition, the Province was silent on requiring paid leave for workers to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Access to paid leave is necessary for ensuring the safety of workers, their colleagues, and the community at large.
Investing in the nonprofit sector
Good news: The Government of Ontario is building on its initial investment of $2 million for pandemic relief for Francophone nonprofits by dedicating an additional $1 million in this year’s budget.
The Province will also spend $1.6 million over the next two years for the Anti-Racism and Anti-Hate Grant Program. This funding supports community-based anti-racism initiatives, especially anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Another $50 million in grants will be available to eligible faith-based and cultural organizations to support places of worship and cultural groups in providing safe spaces for people to gather.
Bad news: At the start of the pandemic, the Ontario Nonprofit Network calculated that $680 million was needed to stabilize nonprofits. That was more than 8 months ago, and things have gotten much worse since. The nonprofit sector is a significant part of the economy and provides valued services, supports, and opportunities for local communities — it needs immediate attention from the Province.
Bold action needed from the Province
Ontario is in crisis and, while there is a faint light at the end of the tunnel, challenging times still lie ahead. Instead of taking strong, bold action, the provincial government has tabled a budget that fails to provide adequate support for the communities that need it most.
Like the November 2020 provincial budget, this budget has once again shortchanged individuals, communities, and the nonprofits that serve them. The Province must do better.