In following the recommendations of the Government of Manitoba regarding social distancing, Make Poverty History Manitoba did not attend a large gathering at City Hall yesterday to speak to Executive Policy Committee of the City of Winnipeg about budget 2020.
With the COVID-19 crisis, the City of Winnipeg should seek to delay the passing of its budget, in line with what many community groups and labour unions have called for.
Almost two years ago, Make Poverty History Manitoba launched Winnipeg Without Poverty: Calling on the City to Lead. Since that time, we were successful in urging the city to work on a municipal poverty reduction strategy. Now, we appreciate the opportunity to help develop that strategy alongside the City of Winnipeg.
Part of this work has been to encourage everyone – elected officials, members of the public service, and citizens – to understand that the City absolutely has a role in addressing poverty. In fact, its legislated mandate is “to promote and maintain the health, safety, and welfare of the inhabitants”, which at its heart is making sure that our city is addressing the needs of the most vulnerable.
Crucially, this means ensuring that all city services, budgets, bylaws, and decisions are made with a lens of supporting those living in poverty and fostering social inclusion. This current time of crisis with COVID-19 has underscored this point dramatically.
The Winnipeg Without Poverty report suggested 50 recommendations in 13 theme areas that the city could act upon within its jurisdiction to help with its role in addressing poverty.
We must make sure that budgeting choices reflect a need to address poverty and social exclusion. Future budgets must prioritize a forthcoming poverty reduction strategy.
Here are some of the suggestions and recommendations that our coalition would have made in person to Executive Policy Committee, with the recommendations of Winnipeg Without Poverty, and the understanding of the role of the city in providing for the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens.
Community-Based Organizational Grants and Support
10% Cuts to Community Organizations
Our coalition calls on Executive Policy Committee to reverse the inclusion of 10% community grant cuts proposed in the 2020-2023 Winnipeg budget. This is the list of organizations amalgamated by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg that are facing potential cuts in this budget. These community-based organizations provide necessary services for the health, safety, recreation, and well-being of Winnipeggers of all ages, and must be supported by our municipal government as part of a comprehensive municipal poverty reduction strategy.
Learn more about the call to reverse these cuts here: http://policyfix.ca/2020/03/17/covid-19-city-of-winnipeg-should-postpone-budget-and-stop-cuts/
While it is good to see that most groups in the Indigenous Youth Strategy have maintained their level of funding, Winnipeg Without Poverty called for an increase in funding for this strategy, with a 10% increase and indexed to inflation. Stagnant funding may prove to be a challenge as inflation rises in coming years.
Leased space to community organizations
Our coalition is also concerned about the ask for a report back within 180 days with a “plan to rationalize City owned and/or leased building assets including … building leased to third parties that the Public Service considers to be surplus to the needs of the City (including a relocation plan for any non-profit tenants.”
While there is not yet a plan to sell any buildings or increase rents for community groups, the city does lease space to a number of important organizations such as childcare centres, family resource centres, and other essential services for Winnipeggers. This is a good use of the powers of the city to address poverty and support the well-being of its citizens, and this file will be carefully watched. A regressive change here could result in the loss of child care spaces and other services crucial to social inclusion and economic development in Winnipeg.
24 Hour Safe Space
It is also promising to see inclusion of funding for a 24 Hour Safe Space provided by community agencies – long a call from the community in Winnipeg for the city to support and fund to help address community health, safety, and well-being.
It has been promising to see the development of measures to increase affordability and accessibility of transit services, though Budget 2020 is a mixed bag of increases and cuts.
Low-Income Bus Pass
The city is moving forward with a low-income bus pass, beginning at 30% off, and increasing to 40%, then 50% in subsequent years. This is an important step, though we know that 50% off the full monthly pass is still out of reach for many Winnipeggers. We support the implementation of a sliding scale low income bus pass program, calling on the provincial government to financially support this program. Although the low-income bus pass will be more expensive than the U-Pass, it is not justification to cut the latter. It is promising to see that the U-Pass will be reinstated in the budget, as it is a vital program for all students, including low-income students who are also challenged with paying rising tuition fees, textbook costs, housing, and more. The low-income bus pass program should be a sliding scale so it can adequately meet the needs of low-income Winnipeggers, while maintaining the U-Pass program.
Cutting the Downtown Spirit
Removing the downtown spirit free shuttle service will be detrimental to the many low-income Winnipeggers who use the service to access basic needs in Winnipeg’s core. It should be a service that is kept, and a model that can be expanded to help address poverty in Winnipeg.
It is promising to see increased funding for Transit Plus, while responding to the Ombudsman’s recommendations for Transit Plus. Winnipeg Without Poverty called for the City of Winnipeg to work collaboratively with stakeholders to develop a coherent governance framework and accountability mechanism for Transit Plus services and ensure that the service is adequately funded to provide safe, courteous, and reliable transportation for people
Knowing the importance of high quality, accessible recreation programming in our city to everyone including those living in poverty, it is disappointing to see the reduction of Leisure Guide programming by 50% starting in January 2021. As the budget states, remaining programming should be available to communities with higher needs, but this may be a challenge given 10% funding reductions to many organizations that provide recreation services.
Further reading, including suggestions for increasing revenue and other spending options:
Recent blog post from Social Planning Council of Winnipeg:
Alternative Municipal Budget 2018 – Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba: https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Manitoba%20Office/2018/06/Alt%20Municipal%20Budget%202018.pdf