Ford government cutting $1B from social services over 3 years

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Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are slashing roughly $1 billion from the Ministry for Children, Community and Social Services over the next three years, according to the provincial budget, but have provided few details about where the cuts will occur.

Spending will fall from $17 billion in the 2018-19 fiscal year to $16 billion in 2021-22 and is projected to fall even further to $15.6 billion by 2023-24, according to the budget released Thursday,

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The PCs claim the reduction will come from their previously announced reforms to social assistance programs in the province designed to achieve “better outcomes for clients, reducing costs and administrative burden and ensuring social assistance programs are more accountable.”

The changes will result in an estimated annual savings of $720 million within three years, according to the budget. Another $510 million is expected annually through “operational efficiencies and cost savings” as well as streamlining programs such as childcare, affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs.

Minister Lisa MacLeod announced last fall a $10-billion shakeup to social assistance that will see individuals on Ontario Works earn $300 per month before a reduction in their assistance benefits, up from $200.

READ MORE: Ontario tightens purse strings, PCs don’t plan to balance books until 2023-24

Ontario Disability Support Program recipients, meanwhile, will have an annual exemption of $6,000 rather than $200 per month. For both programs, benefits will be cut by 75 cents for each dollar earned beyond these exemptions.

Although there are few details in the budget regarding the cuts, Nicole Bonnie with the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, said she is concerned the cuts will have an impact on how child welfare is handled in the province.

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“The amount is significant,” Bonnie said. “Cuts to the broader sector will have an impact on who we see and the urgency with which we see them.

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“It’s always difficult to not have the details, and we are looking forward to further analysis (from MCCSS).”

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The cuts to social programs were part of the $163.4-billion package the Tories unveiled in their first budget — nearly $5 billion larger than the last budget from the previous Liberal government.

“Ontario’s employment and training programs are not sufficiently focused on helping jobseekers, including social assistance recipients, find and keep jobs,” Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said during his budget speech. “These reforms will provide wrap-around supports to help social assistance recipients address barriers and access to employment supports.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath slammed the cuts to social programs as evidence the budget “won’t help families.”

“We went into this budget expecting deep cuts,” Horwath told reporters. “What we didn’t expect was level of irresponsibility and outright cruelty that we are seeing in this budget.”

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