Liberals Gut Welfare Diet Program

by PJ Lilley, Punching Out Collective (with files from
Sam Kuhn of TAG & John Clarke of OCAP)

Somewhere, Mike Harris must be pretty proud of Dalton McGuinty this week. In the worst tradition of the poor-bashing ‘Common Sense Revolution’, the Liberals have quietly slashed the Special Diet supplement, which was just starting to be put to good use in feeding thousands of families on welfare and disability across the province. (They also quietly signed an agreement with Ottawa that allows the province to seize tax refunds to recover welfare payments made to sponsored immigrants. This claw-back, like the one Harris brought in to cut the baby bonus for parents on welfare, is most threatening to women in abusive relationships who may now feel forced to stay.)

The revised diet supplement forces people to disclose their medical conditions, including HIV/AIDS, to justify getting any type of special diet. Even those with the most serious diseases will only qualify for paltry sums such as $10/month for liver disease, $10/ month for cardiovascular disease and up to $240/ month for cancer or HIV - but only if you've already lost at least 10% of your body weight.

Over the past few months, "Hunger Clinics" had sprouted up across Ontario whereby sympathetic healthcare practitioners have been signing up social assistance recipients en masse by the thousands; effectively squatting the provincial legislation. Ontario Common Front groups like Ottawa's Under Pressure Collective, the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty, Guelph Union of Tenants & Supporters, Kingston's Coalition Against Poverty, the Tenant Action Group (Belleville), Kitchener/Waterloo Youth Collective, and the Peterborough Coalition against Poverty have taken OCAP's idea and run with it. This year, before they gutted it, the Special Diet Policy put an extra $40 million into the hands of poor people. As heartwarming as that is, it is a tiny amount relative to the transfer of wealth to the already wealthy that took place under Harris and continues under McGuinty.

Just as the 21.6% cut to welfare was introduced then in 1995, research done by a City Councilor’s office revealed that, if you compared the tax cut for the rich with the reduction in welfare payments, it worked out to $1 million a month being taken from Regent Park and given to Rosedale. In ten years, $120 million has changed hands between these two Toronto communities. Research by the CAW showed that the tax break a $1
million/year CEO would get in Ontario was the same as the cut in income that 17 single parent families on welfare had experienced. When you consider the money ripped from poor communities Ontario-wide flowing directly into these few wealthy enclaves, the enormity of this exploitation is stunning.

In Sudbury, disgust and outrage at the slashing of the special dietary supplement is being directed towards Liberal Cabinet Minister Bartulucci's office, with a militant rally and march on November 14. TAG in Belleville says that they and their Common Front allies will not stand for this and plan to attack the government forthwith with a big action in Toronto on November 26th.

Having won millions for poor people, having tasted victory, and having now the strength and numbers to fight; we hope to carry the struggle for economic justice and dignity as far as we can. And -- we won't be quiet until we get our special diet!

Saturday, November 26, 1pm ~ Nathan Phillips Square
(Bay & Queen, Northwest corner, Toronto)