The City Spelled Out the Consequences for Potential Budget Cuts, and It Doesn't Look Good
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The City Spelled Out the Consequences for Potential Budget Cuts, and It Doesn’t Look Good

The identified cuts would disproportionately impact the city's most vulnerable citizens, says a new report.

Budgets have consequences, but the City rarely spells it out in terms that we all understand.

The language of budgets is generally numbers: making sure the assets and liabilities match up, that you don’t spend more than you take in, and that your debt ratios are within generally accepted limits. But these numbers are abstractions for a far more important variable, the well-being of our city and neighbours.

This year, a City report [PDF] outlines the equity impact of potential service reductions. These potential reductions come from a Tory-backed Council edict for each department to identify 2.6 per cent in cuts. The report states that this approach, which treats each department as the same regardless of size, revenue, or need, disproportionately affects small departments that support vulnerable Torontonians.

Here are some of the high-impact consequences that the report identifies, and selections that argue why they matter. Council will address the potential cuts through its budget process, which concludes in a couple of months.

Remember: government budgets are ultimately about people, and marginal reductions disproportionately impact Torontonians who most need the support. If we are what we fund, what do those potential cuts say about our values?

Proposal: The Board of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has approved a 10-cent
fare increase.

Comments: The Reviewers pointed to the Staff Report submitted to the TTC Board
which projects that the fare increase will result in a reduction of 1.2 million trips in 2017. This will disproportionately suppress trips by residents with low income, who are less able to afford a fare increase.

One Reviewer with expertise in transit equity stated that if the 10 cent fare increase is implemented, the TTC fare will have increased by 21 per cent, in real terms, over the last seven years.

Proposal: Discontinue food production to Meals on Wheels Agencies.

Comment: The Reviewers indicated that the existing Meals on Wheels system is already very fragile. They stressed that the proposed cut will have dire consequences and will result in many agencies no longer being able to provide food and social support to vulnerable and isolated residents.

Eliminate services that prevent homelessness, which will result in a reduction of $18.518 million (exp) and $17.088 million (net). This reduction will eliminate
services funded by the province’s Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative, including the Rent Bank, Housing Help in shelters, Supports to Daily Living, Community-Based Housing Help, and drop-in services.

The Reviewers noted that many of the impacted programs and services are essential to helping people find and maintain housing. The Reviewers stressed that this proposed cut will destabilize the shelter and related support systems, noting that many of these services are amongst the most basic and essential that the City provides. The Reviewers indicated that many of the impacted programs and services are lifelines to Toronto’s most vulnerable residents and that the proposed cut would decimate these services, thereby causing great harm to impacted residents.

Proposal: Reverse Task Force Recommendations on Toronto Community Housing and reduce TCHC net base subsidy by 2.6 per cent.

The Reviewers stressed that the significance of the proposed cuts to TCH, along with the $31.2-million shortfall in TCH’s operating budget, cannot be understated. The Reviewers expressed deep concern that the quality of housing and living conditions for existing TCH tenants is already dangerously and shamefully inadequate. Pointing to the unsafe, substandard and unhealthy conditions that characterize much of TCH, the Reviewers found that any reduction in TCH funding would be irresponsible and inhumane.

The Reviewers also noted that the proposed cuts as well as a decision not to fund the $31.2-million shortfall in the operating budget will not only prevent necessary reform to TCH, but also result in significant and extraordinary numbers of unit closures, thereby exacerbating Toronto’s affordable housing crisis.

Proposal: Close Downsview Dells, a transitional house in North York for 27 men attending addiction treatment programs.

Comment: The Reviewers indicated that there is currently no capacity in the shelter and transitional housing system to adequately support an additional 27 men. The Reviewers stressed that the shelter system currently has a 98 per cent occupancy rate; they expressed concern that people requiring access to shelter or transitional housing will be even less likely to get the support they require as a result of this cut.

Proposal: Restructure programming for vulnerable adults and seniors, including eliminating one-to-one home visiting for people with complex mental health issues.

Comment: The Reviewers stressed that this proposed cut will result in greater demands on other social and health services, including emergency rooms. The Reviewers commented that this proposed cut would likely result in savings in one area, and costs in another.

Proposal: Close 44 student nutrition programs serving 13, 279 students in low income neighbourhoods.

Comment: The Reviewers stressed that this proposed cut will diminish students’ capacity to learn and succeed at school.