Create welfare smart card that can only be used for food: Hudak
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak and Tory MPP Toby Barrett release Welfare to Work - a policy white paper that recommends substantial change to the province's social assistance systems - during a media conference at Queen's Park on Thursday, January 17, 2013. (Antonella Artuso/Toronto Sun)
Welfare recipients should be paid a portion of their support with a smart debit card that can’t be used for anything but food, a new policy paper released Thursday by Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak recommends.
Welfare to Work also proposes that social assistance payments be ratcheted down over time for able-bodied recipients who refuse to work.
“People are staying longer and longer on welfare and they are able to work, then we see a staged reduction in benefits to give them incentive to work,” Hudak said.
The paper, the latest in a series of policy documents from the Progressive Conservatives, calls for a revamp of the social assistance system.
Recipients would need to follow individual plans for employment — such as undergoing job training — as a condition of remaining on welfare.
“Compassion is part of this province’s defining character,” Hudak says in a preamble to Welfare to Work. “But compassion means helping people capture their full potential, not condemning them to a life of dependency.”
Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy said the previous Tory government slashed welfare rates by 22%, waging war on poor people.
Milloy said he’s the first to admit that the system needs improvement — that it should help identify and resolve problems, such as addiction, which hold people back.
Ontario Works already requires recipients to show evidence that they’re working towards employment as a condition of getting the supports, he said.
“What Tim Hudak is talking about is punishing people, he’s talking about vilifying people, he’s talking about going back to what we saw 10 years ago,” Milloy said.
The idea of restricting recipients’ ability to spend on anything other than food didn’t sit well with New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath.
“I think the way Mr. Hudak is going about things is wrong-headed and will lead to greater poverty instead of less, to greater destitution and to a province that the people of Ontario don’t like,” Horwath said.
Tory MPP Toby Barrett said the food-only debit card is being tested in Australia.
“The card is obviously to encourage parents to ensure that their children are being fed,” he said.
Hudak said the ideas in the white paper are an indication of his party’s general direction but are not a campaign platform.
The paper suggests that Ontario Disability Support Programs (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) systems be merged and run by municipalities.
People on disability support should be given access to job training programs, and be allowed to retain more of their earned income if they landed a job, it says.
The government would offer tax deductions to companies who purchase special equipment or technology to accommodate an employee with a disability.
“The problem is that the current system as it’s set up views people with disabilities as having an inability to work,” Hudak said, restating that participation would be voluntary for ODSP recipients.