Ontario government stands still in budget, food banks press for progress this

Ontario's food banks put pressure on government to deliver on affordable housing, social assistance reform, and access to healthy food by the summer

TORONTO, March 25 /CNW/ - The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) is concerned that the provincial government did not make necessary progress towards poverty reduction in today's budget. Although the government maintained its key commitments, the OAFB believes it missed a vital opportunity to introduce strategic initiatives that fight poverty and improve economic conditions for all Ontarians.

"The provincial government maintained its long-term commitments on poverty reduction, but we have not made sufficient progress in today's budget," said Adam Spence, Executive Director of the OAFB. "As more Ontarians turn to food banks and our economy slowly recovers, it is vital that the provincial government continues to invest in initiatives that pull our neighbours out of poverty."

A recent study released by the OAFB reported that food banks are busier than ever before. Food bank usage increased by 19 per cent between fall 2008 and fall 2009, resulting in 375,000 Ontarians turning to their neighbourhood food bank for support every month. One third of these individuals were either employed full- or part-time, or unemployed for less than six months. Despite reports of an economic rebound, many communities are reporting a continued increase in food bank usage in early 2010.

In today's budget, the provincial government reaffirmed previous commitments including a minimum wage increase, the elimination of 90,000 low-income households from the tax rolls, and an increase in the number of employment standards officers. Beyond these initiatives, the provincial government also announced:

    -  an increase to the maximum Ontario Works (OW) and ODSP allowance of
       one per cent; and
    -  the transition of the special diet allowance, replacing it with a new
       nutritional supplement program within the next few months.

Fortunately, there are a number of opportunities for progress this spring. Accordingly, the OAFB calls on the provincial government to follow through on its commitment to poverty reduction this spring by:

    -  ensuring individual economic security by implementing the
       recommendations of the Social Assistance Review Advisory Committee in
    -  ensuring the availability and affordability of housing with the
       introduction of a fully funded, comprehensive affordable housing
       strategy in May;
    -  working with all stakeholders to ensure the new nutritional supplement
       program meets its intended aim over the coming months; and
    -  ensuring access to fresh, healthy food through the introduction of a
       farm donation tax credit or surplus agricultural grant program for
       food banks.

The OAFB also calls on the Premier to aggressively push the federal government for improvements to the access and adequacy of Employment Insurance (EI) for Ontarians. Many Ontarians are being forced to turn to food banks after they lose their jobs without adequate federal government supports for transition.

"We believe Premier McGuinty missed an opportunity today," said Judy Dancause Chair of the OAFB and Executive Director of the Agape Centre in Cornwall. "We will be holding the government to account this spring to deliver on affordable housing, social assistance reform, and access to healthy food."

The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) is a network of over 100 food banks including communities across the province from Ottawa to Windsor, and Niagara Falls to Thunder Bay. For more information about the OAFB, as well as hunger and poverty in Ontario, please visit www.oafb.ca.

SOURCE Ontario Association of Food Banks

For further information: For further information: Adam Spence, Executive Director, Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB), Work: (416) 656-4100, x.2931, Mobile: (416) 543-0897; Judy Dancause, Chair, Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) and Executive Director, Agape Centre (Cornwall), Work: (613) 938-9297, x.23, Mobile: (613) 361-0332

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Ontario Association of Food Banks

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