The Ontario Association of Food Banks says rising hydro bills are forcing many in Ontario to make an impossible choice — food or electricity.
In a report released Monday, OAFB says over 335,000 individuals, more than one third children, are turning to food banks each month.
Despite improvements in the economy, the 2016 Hunger Report found food bank usage is seven per cent higher than pre-recession numbers.
“Despite reports of economic recovery, food banks continue to see disturbingly high levels of use and need,” said Carolyn Stewart, Executive Director, Ontario Association of Food Banks, in a release.
While many Ontarians have found employment following the recession, fewer have access to secure, full-time employment that allows them to afford their most basic necessities on an ongoing basis.
The 2016 Hunger Report stated 1 in 3 part-time workers would like to be working full-time, but are having trouble finding these opportunities. The report also includes a feature on Ontario’s rising hydro prices and the added stress that increased hydro costs are putting on low-income families and individuals relying on social assistance.
“Over the past ten years, the cost of hydro has risen over 100 per cent in this province — and yet social assistance has remained relatively stagnant,” said Stewart. “Hydro increases are simply too much for the average Ontarian household, let alone for those on social assistance, living on a limited pension, or even working full-time on minimum wage.”
The association says rising hydro prices have become such a big problem it’s too large a problem for the province to ignore.
The report cites $172.5 million in outstanding hydro bills in Ontario and the 60,000 homes that were disconnected last year for failing to pay.
OAFB says many food banks across the province have stepped up to offer utility assistance when possible with hydro payment plans to clients. However, even the food banks are struggling with their own hydro bills.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said in a recent speech that more relief is on the way, in addition to an eight per cent rebate set to kick in on January 1st.
2016 Hunger Report Highlights and Trends:
Hunger by the Numbers
– 335,944 people accessed food banks across Ontario in March 2016, with 33% (or 112,293) being children under 18 years of age.
– 22.9% increase in senior citizen visiting food banks since 2008. The average income for an elderly woman without an employer pension plan is $19,800 per year. The average for an elderly single man is $26,000 per year.
– 21% increase in single person households since 2008. Single person households represent 45% of food bank users.
– 80% of the jobs created since the 2008 recession have been temporary positions.
– 50% of Ontario’s workforce does not work 40 hours per week. However, 1 in 3 part-time workers report they would prefer to be working full-time hours.
– 73% increase in the number of food bank clients that cite ‘no income’ when visiting a food bank since 2008.
– Food bank use is 7% higher than in 2008 in Ontario. This trend is consistent across Canada with food bank use remaining 28% higher nation-wide than in 2008.
Rising Cost of Hydro
– 100% increase in the cost of electricity over the last 10 years
– Last year 60,000 homes were disconnected for failing to pay their hydro bill
– The Low-Income Energy Assistance Program’s eligibility requirements are exclusionary. A single person in rural Ontario must make less than $18,721 per year to qualify.
– The Ontario Electricity Support Program’s eligibility requirements are exclusionary, and the support offered is often insufficient. A single person that earns $28,000 per year is eligible for a $30 credit. The program’s maximum credit is $50 and available only to families of six or more, making a household income of $39,000 or less.