Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ontario Provincial Budget Confirms Cuts to Childcare Subsidies for Low Income Families

by Carolina Crewe
Basics Issue #13 (Apr/May 2009)

The failure to allocate money for childcare in the March 26 Ontario provincial budget will have a grave impact on single mothers and working class families in Toronto.

The onset of job losses and a looming depression has created a situation where adults will be returning to school for retraining, signalling a need to increase the amount of subsidized childcare spaces. As a poverty reduction strategy, childcare and early childhood education is an investment that governments cannot afford to ignore. Currently, children who are waitlisted for subsidy spaces number more than 14,000. With numbers this high, the Ontario provincial government is gambling with the well-being of families by foreshadowing cuts rather than growth for the subsidy program. The McGuinty-led government is employing a "pass the buck" strategy by opting to lobby the federal government to top up the subsidy funding, which expired in March 2009. Some 6,000 childcare spaces, currently in use, are slated to be permanently cut in Toronto, as well as 16,000 more spaces across the province.

Most of these spaces were created with federal government-transferred money in 2003, as part of a "Best Start" plan for early learning, childcare and family support programs.

Most affected are families in low-income neighbourhoods whose centres have more subsidized spaces. For example, in Davenport-Perth, 35% of families are living below the poverty line (more than the Toronto average of 32.2%), with 25% of families having lone parents. In the 12 licensed childcare centres in this neighbourhood, 53% of all operating licensed spaces have been subsidized. At least two of the centres in this neighbourhood operate almost exclusively on subsidized spaces at 85% and 92% respectively. Cumulative measures to reduce the numbers of families receiving and eligible for subsidies have already been implemented to achieve the slated cuts, including the introduction of an “Absentee Policy”. This policy penalizes subsidized families, even for keeping their children out when they show symptoms of illness, allowing only 2 sick days per month (even for infants) and a measly one-week vacation over the entire year. Failure to meet the requirements of this Absentee Policy means parents lose subsidized spaces for ALL of their children.

As a mass of families currently accessing subsidized spaces are forced out of childcare centres, low income neighbourhoods will lack parents to pay the full daycare fee to maintain enrolments, resulting in centre closures. In adjacent communities such as Toronto Centre-Rosedale, where the number of families with children living in poverty is at 60%, the fallout from these cuts will be even more devastating. According to the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare, professional Early Childhood Education staff - already drastically under-paid - will lose their jobs, while centres will significantly reduce their capacity or close down altogether. Given the Harper government's record failure to provide funding for childcare, merely throwing in chump change for children under six, it is unlikely they will step in to reverse the cuts.

At a time when Canadian banks and big businesses are getting bailouts in the hundreds of billions by the Canadian government, these anti-childcare policies of the provincial and federal governments are just another example how working people – especially low-income families and single mothers – are the first to be victimized and the last to be considered in times of crisis.

All children in our communities deserve access to early learning childcare programs and family support. We need to plan together in our communities to fight the coming barrage of policies that will cut families' access to childcare. Refusal to accept these policies will show the province and the federal government that Ontarians cannot work or access education without adequately funded and equitable childcare.

These Cabbagetown kids are wondering why McGuinty’s budget is going to leave them and their friends without subsidized childcare spaces.