Cornwall city hall
Councillors say the city has been left holding the bag after the provincial government announced millions in social service cuts which will directly impact the poor in Cornwall and SD and G.
Councillors expressed outrage earlier this year when it was realized that some $2 million that used to be doled out locally for things like topping off overdue rent and home heating bills is being shelved by Queen's Park.
Now there is concern from city council that the provincial government decision will mean local social service offices will become the lightning rod for criticism.
A tidal wave of complaints and concerns is looming on the horizon, as those who used to take advantage of the so-called Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit program could literally be left out in the cold.
“Any effort we can make to minimize…we can’t minimize the impact, but at least minimize the surprise that these clients, the most needy of our community, are going to experience in the beginnings of 2013” is required, Mayor Bob Kilger said. “It’s very unjust.”
The city is working with other local agencies like the Social Development Council of Cornwall and Area, Children's Aid Society and the Agape Centre to spread the word.
In broad strokes, Cornwall will be out $2 million to help the working poor, Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients. The changes handed down by the province take effect in January.
Councillors are fuming, and argue more should be done by the province to explain the rationale behind the social service cuts to those who will be affected.
"It drives me crazy when we have to deal with a situation like this," said Coun. Denis Thibault. "Here we are cutting the services and the funding to the people who can least afford it, at the same time as we are providing retention pay and three-plus per cent raises to a number of service that are provided by our municipality."
Thibault took direct aim at Queen's Park.
“In my opinion it’s all on the back of the present Ontario government and some members of the opposition that allow this kind of stuff to happen," he said. "The people who can afford it the most are getting great-big raises, and the people who cannot afford it all are getting their throats cut."
The city has issued correspondence to Ontario Works recipients to explain the changes - but those who receive benefits via the Ontario Disability Support Program aren't so lucky.
"It’s the Ontario disability clients that do not have direct communication from the province, despite the fact that these are provincial budget items,” said the city's social services manager Deborah Daigle, who added part of the reason is because the city doesn't have access to the identities of locals on ODSP because it is a provincial program.
“This will start early in the new year and it will fall to our staff to explain what is and what won’t continue to be covered by provincial funding through the social services office,” said Daigle.
Last year, roughly $1.1 million was doled out to Ontario Works recipients with three-quarters of the money going to utility companies, fuel companies and landlords. For people on ODSP roughly $902,000 was handed out. The changes could affect thousands of people in the region with roughly 7,438 on welfare and ODSP caseloads.
The program cancellation is the latest change to come down the pipe from the Ontario government as it tries to rein in a $15-billion deficit.