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United Way Elgin and Middlesex CEO frustrated by changes to Ontario welfare programs

Ontario's Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa Macleod attends Question Period at Queen's Park, in Toronto on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The head of the local United Way is speaking out following the Ontario government’s announcement that it will halve a planned increase to social assistance payments and scrap the province’s basic income pilot project.

Kelly Ziegner, CEO of the United Way of Elgin and Middlesex, calls the move “frustrating and disheartening.”

Ziegner said she is already seeing the impact of Tuesday’s announcement by Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod, in particular to the province’s cutting of a planned increase in Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program rates from 3 to 1.5 per cent.

“We’re already hearing from numerous agencies about families who are really scared,” said Ziegner. “It’s possible there may even be an increase in demand for social assistance because of it.”

MacLeod said the province is working on a plan to revamp the system.

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“Social services are already grossly underfunded, with Ontario Works recipients 60 per cent below the poverty line,” said Ziegner. “That means individuals and families are faced with extremely difficult decisions daily, and I can’t imagine how they’re feeling today.”

READ MORE: Ontario government defends move to cancel basic income pilot project

MacLeod also announced the province would be “winding down” its basic income pilot project, which gave payments to low-income people in certain communities. A timeline has not been given.

Ziegner says she is “overwhelmed” when thinking about how the families who had previously signed up for the program are feeling.

“Things like increasing social assistance rates and basic income pilots, those are just good policies to have,” said Ziegner.

“To see this abandoned by our government is contributing greatly to the level of frustration that many of us in this sector are feeling.”

READ MORE: Ontario Tories to scrap basic income pilot, reduce planned increase to social assistance rates

Ziegner says her next steps are to speak with volunteers working with the London For All plan to create a plan, as well as convene with a number of United Way groups across the province to come up with a coordinated response.

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