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Ontario underspending on social services by $3.7B, financial watchdog says | CBC News

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The Ontario government has allocated $3.7 billion less than what’s needed to fund existing programs and its announced commitments in children, community and social services, the province’s financial watchdog said in a report released Wednesday.

Based on current spending plans outlined in the 2024 budget, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) projects the province is short $0.7 billion in its budget for Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) spending for 2024-25, which will grow to $1.2 billion by 2025-26 and $1.8 billion in 2026-27. 

The ministry is responsible for delivering the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW), which are its two largest income support programs. The FAO predicts the programs, along with other financial and employment support spending, account for the bulk of projected spending growth.

WATCH | What’s new, and what may be missing, in Ontario’s $214B budget:

What’s inside Ontario’s 2024 budget

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy tabled Ontario’s $214-billion budget on Tuesday, which includes a projected deficit of nearly $10 billion. CBC’s Mike Crawley has more on what’s new — and what opposition parties say is missing.

It estimates that ODSP spending alone will grow from $5.9 billion in 2023-2024 to $7.7 billion by 2028-29, citing a strong projected growth in the number of cases due to population growth and Ontario’s aging population, along with increases in costs due to inflation.

OW spending, meanwhile, is slated to grow at a slower rate from $2.9 billion in 2023-24 to $3.3 billion in 2028-29. The office says the change is due to a projected growth in the number of people on the program, but is also under the assumption OW rates will stay frozen at the same level they’ve been at since 2018.

This will result in “continued reductions in allowance rates after adjusting for inflation,” the FAO said. It estimates the average annual allowance per case declined from $11,154 in 2018-19 to $9,485 in 2023-24 and will be $8,511 by the end of 2028-29.

The office says there were 368,093 ODSP cases and 244,750 OW cases in 2023-24.

Funding also goes toward individuals and families, which includes targeted support for adults, youth and children with disabilities, victims of violence and Indigenous peoples. 

Its developmental services supportive living program, for instance, served about 18,000 people in 2023-24 and cost about $2.3 billion, the office states. It projects it will grow to $2.8 billion by 2028-29, driven “entirely by increases in spending per client,” which include inflation and rising placement costs. 

The office assumes there will be no growth in the number of clients served in the program given historical trends, but says that contributed to a “growing waitlist” for supportive living that swelled from 18,152 in 2017-18 to 27,028 in 2022-23.

Based off the current program designs and announced commitments, the FAO believes MCCSS spending will grow from $19.3 billion in 2023-24 to $22.9 billion in 2028-29.

Meanwhile, based off its 2024 budget, the Ontario government projects MCCSS spending will grow from $19.4 billion in 2023-24 to $20.1 billion in 2026-27, which is the last year of the government’s planned projection.

FAO ‘opinions’ do not reflect actual spending: province

In response to the FAO’s report, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said “the FAO’s opinions are not representative of actual government spending.”

It said it’s increased investment in the ministry’s budget by “more than $630 million” on top of a $1 billion increase from the previous year, “bringing our investment to almost $20 billion.”

The ministry doesn’t “allocate core clinical services funding based on average amounts” so it can’t confirm “FAO’s presentation of this data,” it said.

“Our government met our target of 20,000 children enrolled in Core Clinical Services and [has] committed $120 million, bringing the Ontario Autism Program’s budget to over $720 million this year,” it said.

Opposition takes aim

The provincial NDP said in a statement that Ford’s decisions are a “complete failure of leadership.”

“It’s shocking. He either doesn’t understand the depth of the crisis or doesn’t care,” said MPP Monique Taylor, NDP critic for Children, Community and Social Services in the statement. 

In a statement, the Ontario Greens Leader Mike Schreiner called the Doug Ford government’s “utter failure” to adequately fund social services across the province a “total disgrace.” 

“Under this government’s watch, Ontarians on social assistance are living in legislated poverty,” he wrote. “Ontarians are angry, and rightfully so. It’s time for the government to wake up, stop wasting a billion dollars on booze, and allocate those resources to the social services Ontarians need.”

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