BLOG (Clarissa Lassaline): Background on the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit and the New Situation

Feb 4, 2013

BLOG (Clarissa Lassaline): Background on the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit and the New Situation

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Background on the CSUMB and the new situation

by Clarissa Lassaline  of the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty

The CSUMB

The liberal governments 2012 Spring Budget contained the largest reductions in benefits to people on social assistance since the Harris era.  One of their cuts against poor and working people targeted what was known as community start-up or the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit, the CSUMB.  This was a mandated benefit that every eligible person on OW or ODSP had access to once in a 24 month period.  It assisted in setting up a new home, or to prevent eviction or to prevent a person from getting their utilities or heating cut off in their current dwelling.  CSUMB could also be used in special circumstances when there were conditions threatening the health or welfare of a person – bedbugs for example.  This benefit allowed many women and children living in an abusive situation to get out and start-up in a new place.

The Cut

All that has changed since January 1st.  That community start-up no longer exists.  What the government did is completely eliminate it.  Then it took exactly half of the funding that used to go towards community start-up and put it into a new homelessness prevention programme called CHPI.   Several things have happened here:  inside CHPI the new start-up-like benefits are now available for a much larger population of people living in poverty, not only recipients of OW and ODSP.  At the same time, there is about $60 million less available for this.  The benefit is no longer mandatory nor needs-based since funding is now capped.  Moreover, municipalities have a year from this January to put their plans for CHPI together, a year in which they must deal with a loss of millions of dollars that have been cut from the programme.

The Fightback

All last Fall determined and creative anti-poverty groups across the province along with union allies, front-line workers and indigenous groups like the North Shore Tribal Council fought against the cuts to the CSUMB.  SCAP participated in this stuggle and 11 of our members are facing trespassing charges because Rick Bartolucci had us arrested for protesting in his office.  It became clear that municipalities were not at all prepared for the impact of these cuts. Because of the inadequacy of the basic needs and shelter allowances for OW and ODSP, the CSUMB had become a core benefit for supporting people on social assistance. Cutting it hurts people when they are at a most vulnerable point in their lives, and will increase homelessness and hardship.  Communities pushed their City Councils to demand that the government stop the cuts.  Some did.  Here in Sudbury SCAP was successful in pressuring our Council to pass a motion asking the province to fully reinstate the CSUMB.

The Liberal Government’s response

   In the last days of December, as a direct result of the anti-poverty fightback the Liberals announced they would reinject $42 million dollars back into this new homelessness prevention program CHIPI for the year 2013.  This injection of funds is a hard-won victory but it is a limited one.  It is a one-time deal only to help municipalities transition into CHPI.  The full $60 million cut to the CSUMB is still destined to come into effect next year.

The new situation

Even now with the shortfall, people on social assistance are struggling to meet their basic housing and maintenance needs.  There are no longer province-wide criteria in place to determine eligibility and so each municipality is setting up its own rules.  There may no longer be the possibility of appealing decisions and eligibility is being defined more and more narrowly.  In Toronto for example, only people who have been in an institution for more than 6 months will be allowed to access this funding.

So this means that whether or not people receiving OW or ODSP will have access to money for the kinds of expenses that CSUMB used to cover will depend on where in Ontario they live. Some municipalities are currently creating local programs that will replace CSUMB.  Some municipalities are not. And some replacement programs are temporary measures, put in place until they figure out their longer-term local housing and homelessness plans. Toronto and Hamilton city councils for example have committed to maintaining the previous level of funding.  Hamilton is covering all CSUMB benefits for 6 months, Toronto longer. Sudbury has made no such committment.

In Sudbury

Luisa Vale, who is the Director of Social Services for the City of Sudbury assured SCAP by e-mail that the new municipal ‘application process is the same and the amounts are consistent’ with the previous CSUMB procedures. This however is far from the whole story. As we have found with our recent direct action support work, the criteria for accessing money to  start-up kinds of expenses is becoming quite a bit more restrictive.  Although SCAP was recently successful in helping a person to get the full amount available for a fridge and stove, we also learned that it is precisely these kinds of expenses that are being considered only on a discretionary basis from now on.  Another person who requested funding for travel expenses to establish a new dwelling was refused funding for that expense. He was however able to get the funds by changing his application to an expense for last month’s rent.  We are already seeing that the new programme is not meeting the housing and maintenance needs of people on OW and ODSP.  And this SCAP will continue to fight.

Another change has occurred concerning people receiving ODSP, which is a provincially-administered programme.  Since CHPI has been downloaded to municipalities, it is being administered through OW.  A person on disability still makes their request for start-up type funds to their own ODSP worker, but their application is then forwarded to OW for a decision. This imposes an extra distance between the person on ODSP and the decision-maker.

The struggle continues

SCAP is continuing to seek more clarification around what is happening with CHPI in Sudbury both during this period of transition and for the long term.  We will continue to fight for the reinstatement of the CSUMB or the creation of a permanent CSUMB-like program including all funds as a mandatory program available to all people on OW and ODSP.  And we will continue to fight for people’s access to community start-up and other benefits that they are being denied.