COVID-19 crisis highlights need for provincial investments to end poverty, social exclusion: Budget 2020 Response

Provincial Budget can not be balanced on the backs of low-income Manitobans.

“The Manitoba government’s long-term aspiration is for the eradication of all poverty in the province.” – Manitoba Budget 2020.

While it’s good to see that the Manitoba government agrees with our coalition’s vision of a Manitoba without poverty, it’s clear that Budget 2020, recent ministerial mandate letters, and the current COVID-19 health crisis  leaves an uncertain road ahead for low-income and marginalized Manitobans. At any time of year, and particularly during a health crisis, the provincial budget cannot be balanced on the backs of low-income Manitobans. 

At this time of great societal challenge, we offer our comments and solutions to help ensure the provincial budget addresses poverty and social exclusion.

The public health crisis of COVID-19 only exacerbates the disproportionate challenges for low-income people in our province. For some, self-isolation is impossible without a home, if they are living with core housing need, or if they are living in an over-crowded residence. The crisis in social housing is real. For many, abysmal social assistance rates that have not kept up with inflation for over 3 decades, well below the poverty line, have been and will continue to be a major challenge. Working poor in Manitoba will lose vital employment income or risk putting their health in danger.

Housing

Mandate letters and Budget 2020 continue with major changes in social housing and Employment & Income Assistance (EIA).  The province has sold 950 social housing units and is on track to sell off more, at a time when we should be adding to the supply to address the almost 9000-person waiting list for social housing.  

Income & Employment

Budget 2020 reduces the amount spent on EIA and Rewarding Work. EIA rates must be enhanced to prevent people from facing a constant state of crisis as they try to meet their basic needs. The government’s work to create a separate income support program for people with long-term disabilities is a step in the right direction but must not be accompanied with reduced rates for others.

While employment is a key pathway out of poverty, the current EIA program does not prioritize dignity nor help break down the “welfare wall” to access employment. Rewarding Work, which provides continued dental, health and employment support programs must be enhanced, alongside making the minimum wage a living wage. The province needs a detailed plan to help transition Manitobans on EIA who are able to work into stable, long-term, and meaningful employment. Our coalition has advocated for a Livable Basic Needs Benefit to replace the current EIA program, and support for social enterprise and training programs – now needed more than ever.

Childcare

The COVID-19 crisis is also illuminating the incredible importance of childcare in our society. It is concerning that unit operating funding for non-profit child care centres, 95% of all centres, remains frozen at 2016 levels. The wait list for child care is over 16,800 children – see more on this chart from the Childcare Coalition of Manitoba. Manitoba needs more public, not-for-profit, regulated childcare spaces for which Budget 2020 does not account. 

Mental Health

Continual mental health and addictions challenges will only be intensified with the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are small investments, Budget 2020 does not reach the recommended 9% of health funding on mental health as recommended by the World Health Organization.

Overall, and especially in the midst of a public health crisis, Budget 2020 does not adequately put Manitoba on the road to eradicating poverty. We suggest immediately implementing our coalition’s six priority areas, while working closely with the community to support low-income Manitobans during the COVID-19 crisis. 


Background information


Measuring Poverty

Poverty rates, no matter how you measure them, are still too high across the province. While there has been a decrease in child poverty rates between 2015 and 2016, largely due to the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit and the provincial Rent Assist program, data in Budget 2020 demonstrates those numbers are creeping up again since that time. Currently, around 1 in 10 Manitobans and 1 in 8 Winnipeggers are living in poverty. The Budget states that “the challenge ahead will be to sustain a lower child poverty rate over time.” Definitely this will be, and in many ways, it’s already proving to be true.

Support for Community-Led Responses

‘Community helpers’ to provide services that reduce risk of CFS apprehension, support for community-based options for at-risk families with younger children such as Granny’s House, and supporting employment for individuals leaving the justice system with training opportunities and jobs in the community are important pieces to address the issue of poverty with community-led responses, and it is good to see their inclusion in Budget 2020.

The PST and the BPA

Small tax credits and cuts will not suffice to address the challenge of poverty in our province. Cutting the PST, from which most necessities are already exempt, is another blunt policy instrument that will end up benefiting wealthier Manitobans who have more discretionary income to spend on items that are not PST exempt. Read more here.

Budget 2020 increases the Basic Personal Amount (the minimum income amount on which someone begins to pay taxes). The trouble is that this regressive measure benefits the wealthiest Manitobans much more than those living on a low-income. According to the Manitoba government’s own budget papers, the Manitobans removed from the tax rolls only save $20 in taxes anyway. 

Alternatives Needed

Low-income Manitobans need a lot more than $20 a year. Strong investments in housing, childcare, mental health & addictions, a Livable Basic Needs Benefit, and an increase in the minimum wage, all part of a comprehensive and ambitious poverty reduction strategy would actually begin to put a dent in poverty rates in this province, and help respond adequately to the needs of low-income Manitobans during the COVID-19 health crisis.

——————————> Read more about our six asks at this link.

More Reading:

Change Starts Here: Manitoba Alternative Provincial Budget 2020 – Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba

The View From Here 2015: Manitobans call for a renewed poverty reduction plan

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