Members of the city's community services committee will hear next week there's a big shortfall in funding what's being called “discretionary benefits” for the city's most vulnerable residents.
While the province pays most of the benefits for Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients, the amount the province pays is capped. Any benefits beyond what the province funds is discretionary, and must be funded by the municipality.*
The report heading to the committee on Monday gives councillors two choices: make up the $350,000 from taxpayers, or review the city's discretionary benefits policies to fit with the provincial funding formula.
The annual discretionary benefits budget for Social Services is about $1.2 million, but changes depending on the number of caseloads. Since 2014, costs have ranged from $1.4 million to $1.6 million.
“Social Services has been able to absorb any overexpenditures within its existing budget by allocating eligible items to other program funding and recognizing one time funding from the province,” the report said.
However, the province is taking over the full cost of Social Services, a move that will save the city $800,000 in 2018 alone. At the same time, however, they are capping what they will pay for, meaning anything above that amount will have to be covered by municipalities.
Among the discretionary benefits in question is dental care for kids on social assistance.
“One benefit area that has been consistently under pressure is the area of medically necessary orthodontic coverage for children,” the report says. “This area alone consumed approximately $121,000 of the discretionary budget in 2016 and is on pace to exceed the 2017 total budget expenditure for this category.
“As a onetime measure for 2017, $50,000 that was reallocated through a 2017 budget option for the Social Assistance Restructuring budget will be used to mitigate the funding pressure.”
Members of the committee will decide whether to keep funding the benefits by drawing from the $800,000 in savings, or change the program so it doesn't go over budget again next year.
*An earlier version of this story didn't clear explain how the funding relationship between municipalities and the province works when it comes to Ontario Works and ODSP. That has since been clarified.