A missed opportunity: Community Food Centres Canada responds to Federal Budget 2023
TORONTO, March 29, 2023 /CNW/ - Yesterday, the federal government missed a critical opportunity to enhance vital income support for people living on low incomes. The ongoing challenges of inflation and a recovering economy deserved much stronger attention and action.
While there are many positives in this budget, including establishing the National Dental Care Plan, providing funding for an Indigenous Housing Strategy, a one-time grocery credit and actions to ease tax-filing, the budget still fails to provide structural change through long-term income support to those who need it most.
Read on for our full analysis. We've focused our attention on any direct support that addresses food and income security as well as any investments in the social safety net.
INCOME SUPPORT PROGRAMS
The federal government decided to steer clear of any significant increases in income support programs to avoid triggering further inflation.
While many have argued for fiscal restraint, CFCC feels that this is not a wise choice as it leaves far too many people struggling to make ends meet. Those living in the deepest poverty, for example, need immediate government support.
A one-time "grocery rebate" will be welcome short-term relief for some, but it is a band-aid approach, not a long-term solution to income inequality and ever-increasing food insecurity.
In this budget, we had hoped to see action on our recommendations to introduce a Canada Working-Age Supplement alongside much-needed enhancements to make the Employment Insurance (EI) program more generous and inclusive. On both counts, it fell short and did not include supports for single working-age adults, a group that is living in deepest poverty.
While the budget includes investments toward developing the Canada Disability Benefit, we are disappointed that it does not provide any interim income support directly targeted to people living with disabilities.
Here are the income support investment or program changes:
GST Rebate (Grocery Rebate)
$2.5 billion to introduce a one-time annual Grocery Rebate, targeted to low- and modest-income Canadians, delivered as soon as possible after the budget legislation is passed through the existing GST credit.
Canada Disability Benefit/Disability Inclusion Action Plan
$21.5 million in 2023-24 to Employment and Social Development Canada to continue work on the future delivery of the Canada Disability Benefit, including engaging with the disability community and provinces and territories on the regulatory process.
$10 million over two years, beginning in 2023-24, to invest in capacity building and community-level work of Canada's disability organizations.
Employment Insurance (EI)
$147 million to extend current EI support for seasonal workers (i.e. up to five additional weeks of EI support for a maximum of 45 weeks) in 13 economic regions.
Amend Canada Labour Code to improve job protections for federally-regulated gig workers and enhance their access to EI and CPP.
SOCIAL SAFETY NET
Budget 2023 has established the National Dental Program which will provide dental coverage to uninsured Canadians with low incomes. This is a significant new investment that will benefit millions.
Important investments were also included for Indigenous health programs and an Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy.
Given the current affordable housing crisis, it is disappointing that Budget 2023 did not provide greater support for renters. While the Fall Economic Statement provided a one-time $500 housing benefit to low-income individuals and families, the need is critical and requires a permanent fix.
The proposed Tax-Free First Home Savings Account may assist middle-income earners, but the lack of support for low-income renters will continue to create hardship.
National Dental Program
$13 billion over five years, and $4.4 billion in ongoing support to Health Canada towards implementing the new Canadian Dental Care Plan, to provide dental coverage to uninsured Canadians who make less than $90,000, with no co-payment for those who make less than $70,000. The plan will start at the end of this year.
$250 million and $75 million ongoing support to Health Canada, to establish an Oral Health Access Fund (complementing the Canadian Dental Care Plan) to enhance access to dental care among people living and working in rural and remote areas.
$23.1 million to Statistics Canada, to collect data (with relevant socio-demographics, e.g., region, socio-economic status) on oral health and dental care access to inform roll-out of the Canadian Dental Care Plan.
Indigenous Healthcare Programs
$810.6 million, to enhance medical travel and access to essential medical services (including mental health services, dental and vision care, and medicines) through the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program.
$16.2 million to address tuberculosis reduction interventions in Inuit communities, starting in 2023-24.
Post Secondary Student Support
$813.6 million to enhance student financial assistance for the school year starting August 1, 2023.
New Tax-Free First Home Savings Account program allowing first-time home buyers to save $40,000 on a tax-free basis towards a home purchase.
Re-allocation of the National Housing Co-Investment Fund's repair stream to support the new construction stream and boost construction of more affordable housing.
$4 billion to implement a co-developed Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy.
FOOD INSECURITY PROGRAMS
A renewed commitment to the Local Food Infrastructure Fund will bring some short-term relief to people facing disproportionately high rates of food insecurity in remote, Northern and Indigenous communities.
Beyond the Fund, there were no other financial commitments to food security initiatives.
The lack of focus on food insecurity is deeply distressing given that there are 6 million Canadians who are worried about where their next meal will come from, compromising on the quality and quantity of their groceries or going without food.
Local Food Infrastructure Fund
$10 million in 2023-24 to top up the Local Food Infrastructure Fund to strengthen food security in Northern, rural, and Indigenous communities across Canada.
EQUITABLE ACCESS TO BENEFITS AND SERVICES
Due to systemic racism and the impacts from colonization, racialized and Indigenous individuals face disproportionate levels of poverty. To address this, CFCC has made calls to ensure equitable access to federal benefits and programs.
Budget 2023 does lay the groundwork for progress in this regard. It proposes piloting an automatic tax filing program to help access benefits. Important measures have also been introduced to support Black Canadians and implement Anti-Racism programs.
Automatic tax filing
Increase the number of filers using File My Return (over-the-phone tax filing service for simple tax returns) to two million people by 2025.
Introduce a new pilot program for auto tax filing to help individuals who do not currently file their returns automatically receive benefits in 2024.
Supporting Black Canadians
$25 million to Employment and Social Development Canada for the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative to continue supporting Black-led and-serving community organizations in their service and inclusion work.
$45.9 million to create a Mental Health Fund and establish career development programs for Black public servants.
$25.4 million to the Department of Canadian Heritage to continue implementing Canada's Anti-Racism Strategy to combat all forms of racism, including anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, antisemitism, and Islamophobia.
$1.5 million to develop a new Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion Secretariat to ensure anti-racism, equity and inclusion issues are considered when developing federal government policies.
While Budget 2023 can be celebrated for establishing the National Dental Care program, alongside some additional short-term relief measures, it doesn't make the grade when it comes to the goal of creating dignity and inclusion for all.
We must continue to mobilize to demand better from the federal government. Over the next year, we look forward to working alongside you to advocate for improved and much-needed income and social supports and, ultimately, a healthier and more just Canada.
SOURCE Community Food Centres Canada
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