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Funding pulled from tax-filing service for low-income earners

The Sudbury Community Service Centre recently learned that the province will no longer be funding the Financial Empowerment Champions Program they’ve hosted for seven years
Financial Empowerment co-ordinator John Cockburn is seen at the Sudbury Community Service Centre this week.

The provincial government has pulled funding from Financial Empowerment Champions programs across Ontario, which, among other things, help low-income people file taxes.

Locally, the  Sudbury Community Service Centre has been offering the program for the past seven years, and learned a couple weeks ago their funding application had been denied.

The funding cut, which translates to $180,000 locally, means the program is slated to end by April.

“This will really hurt people with low incomes,” Sudbury Community Service Centre executive director Kevin Cooper told by email correspondence this week.

Although he said the province has assured them the program would continue to operate through Ontario Works or Employment Ontario by April 1, Cooper said people will be left in the lurch in the midst of tax season.

“There was no consultation process with either Ontario municipalities or Financial Empowerment Program providers, and now there is no runway for transition,” he said. 

“We will most likely have no choice but to cancel most of our tax clinics we have scheduled in March and April as we wind down the program. This will also affect clinics that we also offer in Espanola, Manitoulin Island, Parry Sound, Sturgeon Falls, North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie.” reached out to the offices of the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services requesting a phone interview to explain the funding cut and/or change.

This request was denied, as is common practice for Government of Ontario departments.

A City of Greater Sudbury spokesperson said city staff were meeting with the Ministry during the afternoon of Feb. 23, and would be able to share insights next week.

With Ontario Works partially funded by the municipality, there is some concern the program’s shift from the Sudbury Community Service Centre will download costs onto the municipality.

According to the city’s 2024-25 budget document, “The budget for the Ontario Works service contract remains frozen at 2018 levels, putting increased pressure on municipal costs and service delivery expectations.”

The Government of Ontario is expected to release their 2024 budget on March 31.

Last year, 4,200 tax returns were completed through the Sudbury Community Service Centre office, returning $14 million to low-income people free of charge.

Financial Empowerment co-ordinator John Cockburn works out of the local office, and told this week that it’s not just about filing taxes, with a staff of three and team of volunteers offering low-income Greater Sudburians all manner of financial guidance.

“Budget counselling is something that’s ongoing,” he said. “It doesn’t just happen in one hour and the clients understand and get it and never need it again.”

Although they do more than file taxes, he clarified that the program’s tax component is integral.

People need proof they’ve filed their taxes in order to remain on Ontario Works, to receive Ontario Disability Pension, subsidized housing and various other social services, alongside hundreds of dollars of tax credits.

“It topples down to a whole slew of things that rely on the taxes,” Cockburn said. “Filing your taxes is the key and the gateway to pretty much every other service out there.”

The program is open to people the Canada Revenue Agency deems low income, including those who make $35,000 or less per year, $45,000 or less for households of two people, with an additional $2,500 after taxes for every additional person.

“The demographic we serve is primarily people on low incomes, so we’re looking at a lot of social assistance recipients, pensioners ... and what has come to be known as the working poor,” Cockburn said.

For these low-income people, he said losing the free tax-filing service could be the difference between eating or being able to pay rent.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for


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Tyler Clarke

About the Author: Tyler Clarke

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for
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