THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO ------- February 4, 2015 ---- Poverty Free Thunder Bay is an advocacy coalition working for change at the local, provincial and national level to eliminate poverty and its impact on our community.
Our membership is broad and diverse, including agencies in the health and community sectors, faith groups, labour and academics, concerned citizens and low income individuals and families. As a community builder, we continue to focus our efforts to engage, educate and act as a catalyst for systemic change and social inclusion.
There are five areas of expenditures and revenue that we are emphasizing in the 2015 budget: Strategic, Initiatives, Recreation, Housing, Child Care Centres, and Transit. For the first three, we want, for the most part, to extend kudos.
For the other two we raise some concerns.
We are pleased that the budget includes funding for the Aboriginal Liaison, and the coordinators for the Drug Strategy and the Crime Prevention Council. Dedicating qualified personnel contributes greatly to progress in our collective efforts to build a healthy city.
Recommendation: Continue funding
Emergency shelter is the very least that a community can offer its residents. This must be sustained and the service expanded to include an Out of the Cold Program to provide a place to sleep when the Booth Centre and Shelter House can not accommodate everyone.
In the coming year, all partners will need to work together to move forward on developing plans for a specific shelter for youth, for women not fleeing immediate violence, for fathers with children. At the same time, increasing and sustaining affordable housing stock must be pursued at all levels of government and by all stakeholders.
Recommendation: Contribute funding for emergency shelter services.
In keeping with the City Strategic Plan, we are reassured that funding is planned to strengthen neighbourhood and after school programming and address gaps in services for older teens. In particular we are pleased that you are directing funds to preliminary plans for a youth centre.
Recommendation: Any increase in revenue from fees should come from greater numbers of people using facilities and paying fees. Low income areas should receive extra supports. Families who experience economic stress need access to free programs.
Child Care Centres
We caution council against any consideration to cut City Child Care centres. It is important to preserve the capacity of good, quality child care rather than leave it to the rise and fall of the marketplace. Privatization is a short-term strategy for balancing a budget, not for growing a local economy. Outsourcing means the city loses out on much of the decision making process. Rather than shifting responsibility of child care to the private sector as a means to save, the city should ensure their Child Care Centres are utilized effec¬tively and press the Ministry of Community and Social Services for a realistic funding allocation formulae. We need to assure stability for parents who are working or going to school so that they can continue to participate in the community.
Recommendations: Maintain all City Child Care Centres. Lobby provincial government for better funding.
Poverty Reduction Strategy Update 2014: “Multi-ride passes provide the cheapest per-ride fare rate, yet only 3% of the sample size purchased a multi-ride pass suggesting affordability may be an issue. Transportation is a barrier that prevents low income individuals from escaping poverty. Enhancing public transportation affordability can have a number of anticipated and unanticipated benefits.”
Access to public transit, especially ongoing, flexible access, can change the life of a person living on low income. An affordable bus pass has a number of advantages over the use of single tickets. It allows the user to complete multiple errands without the worry of the transfer expiring before they finish their tasks. This allows parents to drop children off to day care, go to work, get to an appointment or pick up groceries in a course of a day before returning to pick up their children. It removes the stress of having to worry about getting many chained events done on time. Thus, transportation becomes an important component in social and economic inclusion.
We are deeply concerned over the fee increases for transit fees. Fee increases are a non-starter. People are currently unable to afford transit fees. Many low income people can’t take advantage of the monthly bus pass. Also, they don’t have enough income to benefit from the tax credit that is offered through income tax. Agencies will find it hard to continue to pay for bus tickets for the participants in their programs. It will take more money to provide this service for their clients.
We suspect the increase in fees will cause ridership to go down. City administration knows this could happen. In discussing the budget document trends they say “In transit services, while new revenues are forecasted as part of revenue fees increases, based on the Fare and Revenue Strategy, actual ridership and pass sales are subject to fluctuations which can challenge Transit to meet budget revenue targets.” The transit master plan works on the assumption that reliability, efficiency, and access will be enough to attract more members over time – although not immediately.
The transit master plan does acknowledge that Aboriginal groups who were consulted, mentioned affordability as being an issue. Affordability is not just an issue for many Aboriginal people. Unfortunately the 2015 budget plans to increase fees without addressing affordability. Riders at many income levels are choosing to buy no more than a 20 ticket package at $40 and hope to get lifts from people if they need to make more than 20 trips.
The present fee structure inappropriately lumps children into a youth fare covering everyone 6 -17 years old. Shouldn’t children 6 -11 years be accompanied? Why is the City Transit making it harder for parents/grandparents to go to appointments, to get to the grocery store without leaving their kids home alone, to give their kids experiences outside the neighbourhood. How age friendly is this!
One City document suggests social discount monthly fares would have to be bought by appropriate agencies to meet the needs of people with disabilities or who are on low income. The transit master plan also suggests a monthly pass that Employers could buy for consenting employees and take the cost off the employees pay cheque. Whatever the source of funding, it should no longer be paid through riders struggling on meagre incomes. Have a look at the Thunder Bay and District Health Unit’s pamphlet “The Cost of Eating Well in the District of Thunder Bay 2014” . The table comparing household income and expenses clearly shows that there is no room for people on social assistance or a family living on a minimum wage job to afford bus fare.
Evaluate bus routes and schedules to ensure people can get to and from work or to a grocery store and return in a reasonable time. Avoiding taking a cab to get groceries, can easily save families $40 or more a week. This is money that could be used instead for the cost of nutritious food. Job opportunities are ghettoized if you need a bus to get to work and work starts or ends outside of bus service hours.
No fare increase
Include children ages 6- 9 years in Child category - ride free when accompanied by a fare paying adult.
Evaluate bus routes and schedules to ensure people can get to and from work or to a grocery store and return in a reasonable time.
By the second quarter of 2015, identify funding sources and put in place a social discount fare available for people on low income at no cost to them.
Conclusion: We appreciate that City Council has a difficult financial course to navigate in 2015. Please remember that the financial obstacles facing people on low income every year are unrelenting. Directly or indirectly they too are taxpayers. Do not download more costs on the poorest tax payers.
Terri-Lynne Carter and the chair of Poverty Free Thunder Bay. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this year’s public pre-budget consultation.