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To help impoverished children, Ontario needs to follow B.C.'s lead

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Ontario government launched a new five-year Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2014.  Within this mandate, the Liberals committed to break the cycle of poverty for children and youth by choosing to investment tax dollars in education, public health and our communities.

However, there's a simple policy change that would have immediate impact for some of the most impoverished children in this province; let custodial parents receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits keep 100 per cent of their court-ordered child support payments.

Under the current legislation, a single parent living on social assistance who's entitled to child support payments will never see a penny of the money. ODSP claws back the equivalent of the court ordered child support from benefit payments. 

A custodial parent supporting one child on ODSP benefits has an annual income of $19,380.  The poverty line for a working poor parent and child is $27,000 per year. That means lone parents on social assistance are living 29 per cent below the poverty line. Allowing parents on ODSP to keep the full amount of their court ordered child support payments just makes sense.    

If both parents receive ODSP benefits then the situation is even more appalling. Child support is deducted from the payor's monthly ODSP cheque, as per the court order, and then the money is clawed back from the parent who should receive the child support. Not only does the custodial parent lose in this situation, but the payor has less money for living expenses as well as additional expenses when they have weekend or extended holiday visits with their children.

I've advocated that 100 per cent of child support be given to the custodial parent and none of it clawed back. This money would go a long way to helping parents raise their children out of extreme poverty.  In the case of gendered violence, this extra income could keep women from returning to abusive relationships when they find that they can't afford suitable housing or adequately feed their children. Both of these are very real reasons for women remaining in, or returning to, abusive relationships. 

British Columbia also clawed back child support payments from custodial parents receiving social assistance.  But, as of September 1, 2015 the B.C. Liberal government will discontinue this policy thereby allowing children to benefit from court ordered financial contributions made by non-custodial parents.  

The B.C. government has an agency called the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) that collects monthly child support payments from payors. The FMEP has a couple of conditions that they adhere to: they will not pursue child support payments from a payor whose annual income is $10,280 or less; nor will they assist custodial parents if the payor is receiving social assistance. Regardless, as of September 1, 2015 the FMEP will ensure that 100 per cent of the child support payments collected will be disbursed to custodial parents on social assistance. 

In Ontario, the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) enforces court-ordered child support payments. This agency is the equivalent of the FMEP in B.C.  So, everything is in place for this change to ODSP policy to be seamlessly implemented.

The time is overdue for the Ontario Liberal government to divert child support payments from the tax coffers to the pockets of custodial parents receiving social assistance.  Now that would be a positive game changer for Ontario children and youth.


Image: Wikimedia Commons

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