Toronto leaders push for $75 million poverty-busting plan
As Toronto prepares to launch the 2016 operating budget, city leaders call for $75 million to fight poverty.
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Toronto’s 2016 operating budget must include at least $75 million for poverty reduction to ensure city council’s quest to create prosperity for all residents “takes off with determination and goodwill,” say community leaders and activists.
Toronto’s first-ever comprehensive strategy to fight poverty, passed unanimously by council last month, “has the potential to be a real game changer,” the activists say in a letter to Toronto Mayor John Tory and city councillors on the eve of Tuesday’s 2016 budget launch.
“Together, let’s build a legacy of hope, fairness and opportunity for everyone in our city,” says the letter signed by more than 50 community leaders, including the heads of Civic Action, the United Way and Social Planning Toronto and endorsed by the Toronto Board of Trade.
The letter lists 49 poverty-busting recommendations to kick-start action on four key areas — jobs, children, housing and transit — highlighted in TO Prosperity, the city’s 20-year anti-poverty blueprint.
More than two-thirds of the recommendations can be achieved in 2016 through better planning and co-ordination, say the leaders, who also represent more than 75 local organizations whose members participated in a community effort to inform the city initiative.
But the remaining one-third needs up to $75 million in new investment in 2016 to make serious headway on the poverty plan’s goals of improving access to affordable child care, housing and transit.
“We understand that decisions need to be made with the broader backdrop of the city’s fiscal situation,” said Civic Action’s Sevaun Palvetzian. “But our most vulnerable people can’t fall to the background.”
The group’s proposed new spending would provide an additional 7,000 rent supplements, 1,000 more supportive housing units and 1,500 new child care subsidies. And it would allow the city to freeze adult transit fares until a low-income transit pass is introduced in 2017.
Some of the no-cost measures for 2016 will set the stage for spending in future years, such as creating living wage and job quality standards for all city jobs and contracts.
Single mother Feroza Mohammed, 54, who struggled to raise her daughter in Toronto on low-wage work as an accounting clerk, said she hopes the city’s bold plan to eliminate poverty is more than just talk.
“I know how difficult it is to raise a child when you are constantly wondering how to put food on the table,” said Mohammed, among more than 1,000 individuals who provided input on the strategy. “Reducing poverty will make a lot of difference in terms of children’s well-being.”
Mohammed’s daughter has a Master’s degree and is working in her field. But Mohammed, who suffered for years with undiagnosed depression related to her financial difficulties, is still trying to find her feet. She recently retrained as a community worker and is living with family members in Mississauga while looking for a job.
“The city has to do more to help people with affordable housing and child care,” she said
As councillors begin deliberations on the 2016 budget, expected to top last year’s high of $11.4 billion, they need to look at each decision and ask: “does this help reduce poverty in our communities, or does it make more of us more vulnerable?” said Sean Meagher of Social Planning Toronto.
“Poverty reduction really only works if the new investments are net new investments,” he said. “If they are pulling things out of things people living in poverty need, to put into new things that they need, we’re not getting ahead.”
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