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The Family Allowance

Can your bundle of joy bring you a bundle of cash from the government? Parenting columnist Hillary Di Menna brings us a bundle of facts about the family allowance.

In the not so distant past, before I put the “Unfriend” Facebook option to use, I would see some pretty derogatory status updates made against women who “spread their legs” and “pop” out babies as a source of income.

These judgements were spouted with the assumption that the government pays low-income families big bucks to support their children. Too often I would hear people rant about how “their” money shouldn’t go toward the “mistakes” of others. (Whether someone’s child is planned or not is irrelevant and a human life is not a mistake.)   

These comments are appalling for many reasons, one being that they oversimplify pregnancy and childbirth. A woman’s body is strong enough to house and nourish another human for the better part of a year before delivering them into the world. Respect that.

Second, they perpetuate the stereotype that certain types of people are out having a good time while letting their children live in poverty. Campaign 2000 is a national non-profit organization named for the 1989 all-party House of Commons resolution to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. Its 2011 report card debunks the myth that single mothers are the only ones “allowing” their children to live in poverty.  It showed that female lone-parent families came second to families with both parents in child poverty rates.

Clearly, this problem affects everyone.

The next reason is just bang-my-head-against-my-desk ignorant. Some people actually believe that having children is a lucrative business. Allow me to throw some acronyms at you: CCTB, NCBS and UCCB. These are all government initiatives that yes, do help families and are paid with Canadian taxpayer’s money. But not every one of these is eligible only to low-income households. And none of them provide enough for half a month’s rent on a modest apartment, let alone groceries, daycare, transportation, clothes etc.

Here are the facts:

The Universal Child Care Benefit, UCCB, is available to all families. The Canada Revenue Agency website says, “The UCCB is designed to help Canadian families, as they try to balance work and family life, by supporting their child care choices through direct financial support.”

“It does not matter how much you make,” assured the kind man over the Canada Revenue Agency phone line.  Monthly installments of $100 are given to the primary care giver for every child until the child is six years old.

No matter how many manicures you want to get in a month, if you have kids under six, your grocery bills, childcare costs and expenses for diapers, new clothes and shoes for every growth spurt will eat up this $100 pretty quickly.

The Canadian Child Tax Benefit, CCTB, and the National Child Benefit Supplement, NCBS, are based on family income. A family with one or two children with an income under $109,894 qualifies for these benefits. It is awarded as a monthly cheque. The maximum amount is $290.41 if a family income is less than $24,183 and they have one child. If the family has more than one child, it is less for each additional child. Introduced as a response to child-poverty in Canada, NCBS is awarded to the lower income families, and adds a maximum of $176.50 to the CCTB monthly payments.   

The dollars acquired by these benefits don’t add up to the cost of living. Canada has no set poverty line, but The Canadian Council on Social Development (a ninety-two-year-old non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that researches Canadian social policies) suggests the poverty line for a single parent with one child is $23,561 and $30,424 for a couple with two children.

These additional incomes are not connected to Ontario Works, OW, also known as social assistance or welfare. In fact, if you do get OW assistance, you no longer receive any of the aforementioned benefits. Ontario Works provides an income that is meant to be temporary while the program assists the recipient in finding employment. It is meant as a supplement for an immediate need of food and shelter, in the same way a food bank provides food to add to already stocked groceries to provide a more balanced diet.

What if a parent does need OW’s assistance because they cannot afford to wait on a subsidy daycare waiting list and enter the workforce? Are they living it up?

Unlikely.  “Ontario Works has remained the same for some years though the cost of living has grown,” said Danielle Grandmaison, a registered social worker, marriage and family therapist at Oshawa Community Health Centre.

These are all supplements to help families, reduce child poverty, and encourage working outside of the home. They are not handed out for people to live on nor would anyone be able to survive on what they receive. It may sound “nice” to have this extra cash, and it is a much-needed and appreciated government effort. However, any leader of a family household can tell you that this money goes fast on necessities, and not on fun shopping sprees.

We’ve tried living in an uncompassionate society and it hasn’t worked. Change is worth a try.

All comments are moderated. Please be respectful and please stay on topic. Personal attacks are never tolerated around these parts. Play nice.

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