Kimberly Rogers Inquest -
Fri., Nov. 22, 2002 - Day 24
Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Sudbury Medical officer of health, was called as an expert by the Sudbury SPC on Friday, Nov. 22. She referred to a very large number of studies that all show that income is a very important factor in health. The research shows that it is not just the absolute level of poverty but also the gap between the rich and the poor that is associated with poorer health.
Dr. Sutcliffe showed a chart indicating that life expectancy, heart disease, lung disease and mental disorders are all worse in Sudbury and district than the Ontario average. As well, women in Sudbury are more likely to be unemployed, have less education, have a teen pregnancy and have a lower income. Because of this clear correlation the Sudbury Health Unit takes action on poverty and health.
One of the activities done by all Sudbury (and all health districts in Ontario) is to price a nutritious food basket every year. This is done according to a strict protocol by the Ministry of Health setting out the minimum basic food requirements of people and families of various genders and ages. The average cost of those foods in then priced in various local supermarkets annually.
The example of a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy, like Kimberly Rogers, was shown. The minimum food for her needs cost $140/month. Her rent was $450. According to the health unit, her welfare entitlement would have been $520, plus a $43/month pregnancy supplement. That would have left her with minus $27 /month just on food and rent, not counting any needs for telephone, transportation, clothing, etc. However, the health unit did not know that she was not given the pregnancy supplement (which has now been cut to $30 per month by the province). Nor did they know her allowance was reduced to recover the overpayment.
As a result of Ms. Rogers death the Sudbury Health Department passed two resolutions, dealing with adequate levels of assistance and opposition to the lifetime ban. They wrote to the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and recently received a letter in response (we don't know of any responses to any of the municipalities' resolutions). Minister Elliot repeats the government justification for the lifetime ban.
In response to additional questions, Dr. Sutcliffe gave further detail about the nutritious food basket which all health units are required to do yearly. So the data is easily available to be used in setting basic needs rates (of course the rates would have to take into account other basic needs like toiletries, transportation, etc). She stated that food banks can only fill short-term emergencies and clearly are not adequate for long term use to make up the shortfall in social assistance.
Next, Ian Morrison, OSSN/SCSA witness, returned to the stand. He continued explaining the basics of the OW law and policies (as well as clarifying the difference between acts, regulations, policies). He was able to show how complex the rules are, and also how welfare law often differs from ordinary meanings (such as the rule that loans are considered income).
In the course of reviewing the welfare rates, and also drawing on his work with Daily Bread Food Bank, Mr. Morrison reviewed various food bank studies that show the biggest users are recipients of assistance, and that make links between food bank use and health problems. He also entered CMHC data concerning average rents around the province, which completed earlier evidence given about the cost of rent in Sudbury. Again that information is available to use in helping set rates.
Mr. Morrison was asked about the deduction of the National Child tax benefit supplement. The federal benefit, which is given to alleviate child poverty, is partly clawed back from children on welfare, thus providing no gain for those who need it most.
When Mr. Morrison started dealing with overpayment policy, the Coroner ruled that he could not talk about administrative error. However, he was able to deal with the rate of recovery. The maximum rate is set by law at 10% of the allowance, but municipalities have the discretion to recover at a lesser rate, and should when it creates hardship. He also recommended that underpayments should be reimbursed, instead of the current practise in most places to only pay back one month.
Mr. Morrison's evidence continues on Monday, November 25, 2002. Also scheduled for Monday is Jacqueline Thomson, executive director of LIFE*SPIN (grass roots advocacy agency in London) and OSSN steering committee member.
Meanwhile, the Divisional Court hearing on the CAEFS coalition judicial review concluded on Friday. The court reserved judgement for one week. The CAEFS expert witnesses, Kim Pate and Bruce Porter, cannot be compelled to testify until the decision is released. The Inquest was not going to be sitting on Wednesday or Thursday of this week anyway; the next day may be Friday, with four days possible next week.