We won’t see a painful welfare surge post CERB if we deal with poverty now

Most of us who follow these programs know we are in the eye of an income security storm anesthetized by the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and its newly announced extension through the summer of 2020.  What happens afterwards is anybody's guess but CERB is such a massive program, its demise will cause more earthquakes than tremors.   In just a few months, the CERB has become Canada’s largest income security program estimated to spend as much as $71 billion. What is even more amazing, this new program is about to either disappear or become something very different. If the CERB morphs into something else, we need to be vigilant as to what that will be. It could be a Universal Basic Income (UBI) as some would hope but the CERB…
Read More

Mixed messages in a land of 219 income exemptions

Ontario’s two social assistance programs and its rent geared to income program are contained under the regulations in three pieces of legislation: The Ontario Works (OW) ActThe Ontario Disability Support Act (ODSP); andThe Housing Services Act Appended here are 36 pages listing all 219 forms of income that are exempted in full in these programs. Many of the exemptions overlap. This means that the same exemptions are in many cases repeated in all three sets of regulations. For social assistance, this means that recipients can receive these forms of income (76 in OW and 82 in ODSP) and they will in no way affect the determination of the allowances or benefits. They may receive these forms of income on top of their assistance. For subsidized housing, there are 61 forms…
Read More

Let’s play ‘Cliffs and Clawbacks’: Sensational new board game based on the CERB

Talk to almost any program design expert and they will tell you that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is an incredibly badly designed program. They will also tell you that at the beginning of a pandemic crisis with little information, an economic lockdown and no vaccine, it is exactly what we needed. The CERB is incredibly simple; a few rules, a flat amount of $2000 a month, an internet connection and a social insurance number and Bingo! The program is out the door. It's like tying a jet engine to a VW Beetle and opening the engine at full throttle. It’s going to fly off the launch pad and go wherever it goes and it did. Step right up! Click the ‘submit’ button and away we go! You lost…
Read More

The pandemic and a basic income: Why talking about the CERB paves the way to a conversation on eradicating poverty

 On Saturday May 30, 2020, in large red letters in the Toronto Star’s Insight section, the question is asked: “Is the time ripe for a basic income?”[1] Beside the headline, some supposedly provocative figures are mashed together: “$2000 – Monthly amount of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit$151.7 billion – Total emergency spending to date including $40 billion to 8 million on CERB$86 billion – Estimated annual cost of a basic income the last time it was looked at$260 billion – Revised estimated deficit, $8 billion higher than last reported.”[2] I think what the headline and the numbers are trying to acknowledge is that, as a nation, we suddenly agreed with the idea of handing out large amounts of money to our residents who lost income because of the COVID19 crisis.…
Read More

Deduct, Offset and Charge!

A modern history of benefit confiscation from social assistance, RGI housing, post-secondary assistance and low income seniors programs in the time before COVID19 In 1935, the newly minted Minister of Ontario’s Public Welfare department, David Croll, was faced with a new dilemma respecting the delivery of ‘relief’ to the poor. A significant number of municipalities across the province were declaring bankruptcy. Their workforces were being furloughed and being added to unemployment lines. Up until then, municipal staff had gathered bags of food, coal and coke for furnaces, clothes hampers and personal effects and delivered them to the poor who lined up for these provisions at municipal offices. But with no staff to stuff bags, relief lines were growing shorter even though the need was just as great. The 35 year…
Read More

Canada’s CERB: How an emergency benefit designed for exposed people became a giant windfall for governments

“The protected make public policy, the unprotected live in it.”[1] - Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, 2016 I frequent three online chat forums visited by low income people with disabilities in receipt of a program called the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). For the last month, one of the hot topics has been the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) which will provide - as of this writing on May 16, 2020 - up to $8,000 to people who lost work because of the COVID19 pandemic and earned at least $5,000 last year. The CERB is one of the simplest and most straightforward income programs ever designed. Just one monthly amount of $2,000 with just 3 qualifying rules surrounding COVID19 and ‘Bingo’: you get it. But that is not what online…
Read More

Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus provides lessons for COVID19 compensation

Christopher Marlowe was just 29 when he died in 1593 but his most famous play, The Tragicall History of Dr. Faustus, made its debut in the early 1600’s. Born in the same year as Shakespeare, the final version of Dr. Faustus was published in the year of Shakespeare’s death in 1616. The plague that hit two centuries earlier had permeated the imagination of 16th century Britain especially as this was an age that had little idea of what a vaccine might be or how one would work. “Are not thy bills hung up as monuments, Whereby whole cities have escap’d the plague, And thousand desperate maladies been cur’d?”[1] Indeed, both Marlowe and Shakespeare were fortunate to have lived a long generation before the resurgence of the plague in London in…
Read More

COVID-19 and compensation lessons from the Barrie Tornado

This is a tale of what happens when governments attempt to compensate people for losses incurred in the context of a disaster.  When governments do that, the rich get compensated and the poor lose out. The rich own more and the poor own less.  And the poor pay less for things like shelter and food in the first instance. This is a cautionary tale that can instruct governments to compensate based on need and income as opposed to losses and how much they pay for things Listen to my story.   On May 31, 1985, a swarm of tornadoes broke out across southern Ontario. The one that hit Barrie was an almost 'unheard of' Category 5 while Category 2’s hit Orangeville, Dundalk and a few other towns especially along Lake…
Read More

Recommending against clawbacks: Why is the federal government so reluctant to tell other governments how its money should be spent?

It took federal Minister Carla Qualtrough an agonizing 19 days to inform the public that she wanted Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to be exempt from clawbacks under provincial and territorial social assistance and disability support programs. The CERB was introduced on March 25, 2020, and her public admonition came on April 13 in a statement through her spokesperson to the Toronto Star. She did not make the announcement on television. She did not make the announcement at all.  “Our government believes the CERB needs to be considered exempt by provinces and territories in the same way as the Canada Child Benefit to ensure vulnerable Canadians do not fall behind,” said Marielle Hossack in an emailed statement. Some of us had been asking for this for over two weeks and…
Read More

They departed a day apart: John Prine and Pat Capponi

On Sunday August 16, 1977, I drove my 1976 Honda Civic east on Kingston Road past Woodbine Avenue with no memory now what I may have been thinking about.  I was listening to the radio. A news flash came on –they didn’t call it ‘breaking’ back then. I don’t know what they called it but they said that Elvis Presley had died at the age of 42. I turned left on Brookside and stopped the car. I looked around and thought that some part of the world had come to an end. Just a few weeks earlier I had been shopping at Canadian Tire and was able to buy two tape cassettes they called 8-tracks of the ‘King’ singing his greatest hits. The 8-tracks were in a bin where the…
Read More