We have made great strides in the current Omicron variant, having blunted the spread to ensure our health care facilities could manage the highly contagious virus. Considering the reduced caseloads, our high vaccination rate, and access to rapid antigen tests, our Medical Officer of Health has recommended that the current mask mandate become optional in most indoor settings, commencing Monday, March 21. Masking requirements will remain for close contact areas like public transit and to protect vulnerable Ontarians in health care settings, long-term care homes, and congregate care settings. Businesses and people may opt to continue masking, especially those with immune deficiencies and those who are in close contact with them.
On Thursday, I was proud to host our Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, Lisa Thompson, to discuss issues facing our local agricultural industry. Approximately 30 local producers and processors identified numerous issues, including red tape, labour shortages, supply chain failures, and increased fuel and fertilizer costs. She also announced a new $25-million Strategic Agri-Food Processing Fund to support industry investment in projects that address Ontario’s processing capacity shortage and increase the sector’s competitiveness and resilience against future disruptions. Many aging food processing plants have limited functional space and are unable to replace outdated equipment with new, efficient production lines. Agri-food businesses are eligible for up to $3 million in cost-share funding to either build new processing facilities, expand, or modernize existing facilities and adopt new innovative technologies to improve current operations. Ontario produces some of the highest quality food globally but is forced to export much of our raw food and livestock because of our lack of modern processing capacity.
Across the province, we have seen the pandemic’s impact on vulnerable people in our communities. Protecting the health and safety of all Ontarians continues to be our Government’s number one priority. That is why, in 2020-2021, we invested nearly $1.8 billion to help sustain, repair, and grow community housing to help end homelessness in Ontario while addressing the impacts of COVID-19. In January, I participated in the sod-turning of the 77-unit affordable housing project at McConnell Avenue and Ninth Street. This week, I was pleased to announce our latest investment of $3.8 million through our Social Services Relief Fund to create up to 20 affordable housing units on Pitt Street North, providing shelter for people at risk of homelessness in our community, especially those with disabilities. This project is an excellent example of how our Government supports communities. They help some of our most vulnerable people through innovation, collaboration, and a commitment to make sure everyone has a safe place to call home.
After decades of neglect, our Government committed to fixing long-term care. In just under four years, we have 29,135 new and 25,652 redeveloped beds in the development pipeline, contrasted to 611 net new beds constructed by the former Liberal Government in the previous eight years. We allocated an additional $673 million this year to long-term care homes across the province to increase staffing levels, leading to more direct care for residents. This funding includes $6.5 million for long-term care homes in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry. This year, the investment to hire and retain another 10,000 LTC staff is part of a four-year commitment to add the 27,000 staff by 2024 to provide four hours of direct care per day for each resident. We are making the investments required to fix long-term care; our seniors deserve no less.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry