welfare rules must be changed
What was Kimberly Rogers to do? She had no money, she was pregnant and ill and incapable of working. She had been cut off welfare once and was facing the prospect of a lifetime ban from collecting further benefits.
No question, she had messed up badly. She had defrauded the system, accepting welfare payments while getting student loans to go to college. It was another troubling episode in the 40-year-old Sudbury woman's lifetime of troubles.
But whatever she did, she still had to live. She had to eat, pay rent and take medication. By losing welfare, what indeed was she to do at least until she could hopefully get a job and support herself? Turn to crime?
A coroner's jury found that Rogers took her own life with an overdose of antidepressants in August, 2001, while under house arrest in her apartment where temperatures soared as high as 40 C.
The coroner's jury, made up of five average citizens, clearly believes the Ontario government is far too harsh in its treatment of welfare recipients. The jury said the province must end its lifetime ban on welfare since the ban has a "devastating and detrimental effect on our society." The ban must be removed to "prevent the death of impoverished individuals."
The jury members were also obviously horrified at the rates the province pays welfare recipients. A single person, for instance, receives $520 a month, even though the average rent for a bachelor apartment in Ontario in 2001 was $623. After paying her rent and $52 a month in restitution, Rogers had $18 a month to live on. That's barely 50 cents a day for food and everything else she needed.
Jury members called on the province to increase the rates, which were chopped 21 per cent in 1995 and lost even more value through inflation.
Within hours of the recommendations being released, Social and Community Services Minister Brenda Elliott responded by saying the government plans no changes in its lifetime ban on welfare, saying "we think the welfare reforms are working." She also repeated the Tory mantra that "it's important to give people a hand up, not a handout."
The jury spent nine weeks listening to testimony. The five members obviously did not find welfare reform was working. It's also very obvious that the Tories still believe the public has an appetite for welfare bashing.
The very least expected of Elliott was for her to give the jury's recommendations careful consideration. That she flipped it off with a tired old slogan is an insult.
The jury was right. The government should act immediately to stop the lifetime ban and increase the rates so our fellow citizens are not condemned to such unhealthy, stressful lives. The government should also heed the jury's call to put in place a system to monitor the health of anyone facing a situation similar to Rogers'.
The most sobering thought of all: The system in place when Rogers died is still in place.
source URL: Toronto Star