Cutting dietary allowance heartless, shortsighted



What does it say about the people we choose as leaders, those who we trust to make important decisions for the good of one and all, that with depressing uniformity they issue decisions that make life harder for those who most need a hand up?

Most of us understand what it means to live within financial constraints, but consider the quality of life you would have while trying to get back on your feet if your monthly allowance was $572. That is the monthly financial aid provided to single persons by Ontario’s Ministry of Social Services. You would have to be an extremely resourceful and disciplined person to live on this amount in the Greater Toronto Area – one of the most expensive places to live in this country.

Beginning April 1, the government will make it more difficult for welfare recipients who receive an additional $250 monthly, persons living with a chronic health condition who have special dietary requirements for which that additional money is allocated since, for the sake of quality of life, dented tins of tuna can’t suffice.

The Ontario government’s concerns are that payments under the Special Diet Allowance (SDA) have increased by 1,200 per cent since 2006 and that fraudulent claims are being made. To address this issue the decision has been made to tighten the application process for the diet allowance.

The Liberal McGuinty government which hopes to be re-elected in the fall is now planning to make it harder for people to get money for food. Go figure.

There were 462,146 people in Ontario, both adults and children, receiving social service payments in January. Only one month earlier, that figure was 454,935. The January figure is less than half the number receiving welfare payments from the government in the recessionary period of the early 1990s when close to one million people were on welfare in Ontario. Moreover welfare payments were cut by 21.6 per cent back in 1995 by the Harris Conservatives. Government spending on welfare payments has therefore gone down.

There is no question about the numbers of people who have taken advantage of the SDA. The main reason is that the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) began a crusade in recent years to get people access to the additional funds. With the assistance of local doctors willing to validate the need for the SDA, OCAP helped thousands of welfare recipients to apply. It is from these numbers that the government makes the charge that some claims are being made fraudulently. But if fraud is what it takes to have a decent meal then what does it really say about the level of support currently being given to people who turn to the government for help through Social Services?

At what point will we all as members of this collective society refuse to accept this manipulation by politicians and others in positions of authority who make a habit of objectifying people who have little money or are going through extended hard times? People who are poor and struggling are not living their lives in abstract. Therefore, the people who make important decisions that directly affect those already limited by poverty have to do so with respect for what that means.

Healthy eating means better health and better health allows people a better basis from which to move forward in their lives. Don’t we all understand this?

Put yourself in this picture: Maybe a few hours overtime pay means you may buy the ‘free-range’ chicken instead of the usual bag with chicken parts. Perhaps a package of vitamins, or the better brand. Maybe instead of buying one pound of sweet potatoes you buy two. After all, the trend toward healthier and organic foods is having an impact on our food purchasing consciousness.

But people living on a low income are shut out. The price of the foodstuff that is supposedly healthier – all that organic, pesticide-free, free-range stuff – costs more than the other mass-produced, processed and canned foods. Now provincial politicians are saying that just because you are receiving welfare benefits you can’t have it. Perhaps they should be thinking about the cost to the health care system when the people they disallow from SDA start showing up in hospitals.

This latest move against poor people is not only heartless, it is shortsighted.

A note of caution…

Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan predicts uprisings paralleling events in the Middle East will take place in the U.S. Speaking to thousands of followers in Chicago earlier this week at the annual Saviours’ Day celebration to mark the birth of NOI’s founder, W. Fard Muhammad, Min. Farrakhan also called on President Barack Obama to allow protesters to march, and not to attack them.

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