Proposed changes to social assistance funding in the 2012 Ontario budget will cause First Nation communities to slide further into cycles of poverty and dependency, and First Nation Leadership in Ontario are demanding action before it’s too late.
The change in funding will result in Ontario Works Health Related Discretionary Benefits and Non-Health Related Discretionary Benefits being combined into one with a cap of $10.00 per caseload as opposed to covering actual costs.
Health related discretionary benefits cover such items as dental work, eye glasses, a proportionate cost of prosthetic appliances, and funeral and burial costs.
Due to the high costs and with discretionary items being capped, First Nations will be impacted by the cuts, and many First Nation communities will suffer as a result of these changes.
For example, funding for funerals and burials will now be capped for costs exceeding $2,250 with only $10 per case load. In remote communities where basic funerals can cost between $12,000 and $17,000, there may be families who will not be able to bury their deceased loved ones.
“Once again, rather than consulting with individual First Nations to develop a viable solution, the province has decided to take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that will negatively impact First Nations and their citizens,” said Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse.
“While non-First Nation communities might be able to adjust due to the presence of other social service programs, many remote First Nation communities will not be able to meet the demands of their most vulnerable members.”
First Nation Leadership in Ontario has long criticized the province’s social assistance system which has never adequately met the needs of First Nations.
“To move forward, First Nations need to break out of impoverished conditions that have largely been created by factors beyond their control such as their inability to share in resource development that has taken place in their territories, the disrespecting of their inherent and Treaty rights, and the past effects of colonialism and forced assimilation through residential schools,” said Regional Chief Toulouse.
Instead of addressing the destructive legacies left behind for many First Nation communities from years of hostility and neglect, the province continues to place the burden on the communities themselves.
This is despite the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance – which is currently reviewing the social assistance system in Ontario, and featured participation from First Nations – stating in a discussion paper “that we need to think differently about social assistance in First Nations communities, given the unique historical, legal and cultural context.”
Regional Chief Toulouse was speaking at a rally at Queen’s Park raising awareness of social assistance cuts on Monday, June 4 at 1:45 pm.
The Chiefs of Ontario (COO) is a coordinating body for the 133 First Nations located within the boundaries of the Province of Ontario.