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Money for food not in the budget for many families

Oct 30, 2017
SIMCOE MUSKOKA – About one household in eight in Simcoe Muskoka is struggling with a shortage of money to put food on the table — a situation that has seen little change for more than a decade.

SIMCOE MUSKOKA – About one household in eight in Simcoe Muskoka is struggling with a shortage of money to put food on the table — a situation that has seen little change for more than a decade.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s May 2017 survey of food and rent costs revealed some slight improvements in the amount of money available to cover these expenses for families living on minimum wage or Ontario Works, with these improvements primarily being a result of an increase in Canada Child Benefit payments to families with children.

“It’s a step in the right direction, although it’s still not enough,” said Jane Shrestha, public health nutritionist at the health unit. “The impact of the increase in child benefits shows that poverty is at the root of hunger, and that there are simple policy changes that will work.

“It takes more than food to solve hunger,” she added.

For people like Kara-Lee, a single mother in Orillia, rent left her with $300 a month to cover clothing, food and the rest of her family’s needs. One especially tough year before her second child was born, she recalled she often went hungry to make sure her son was fed.

“I didn’t want to take from him,” she said. “I lived off potatoes for a whole winter, pretty much.”

This holiday season, recognizing that policy solutions are needed to make sure everyone can put food on the table with dignity, the health unit’s Cent$less campaign (“No money for food is Cent$less”) is asking community members and local organizations to take an extra step beyond donating food.

The Cent$less web page features new resources that draw attention to the need for long-term solutions to food insecurity. These resources include a video on food charity, as well as a healthy food bank donations resource, a poster and a postcard to Premier Kathleen Wynne that all highlight the need for government policies that help to end hunger once and for all. These resources will also be available at many food banks and other public places across Simcoe Muskoka during the food drive season.

This year’s local Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey results indicate that the cost of food and rent combined would use up 86 per cent of the income of a family of four receiving Ontario Works. This is an improvement on the 96 per cent of income the same family would have needed based on 2016 NFB results.

Similarly, the cost of food plus rent would have taken 67 per cent of the same family’s earnings if the source was from full-time minimum wage work, a slight improvement over the 72 per cent of income needed in 2016.

“Year after year, local residents with income from social assistance and minimum wage work continue to struggle to put food on the table,” Shrestha added. Food banks and the communities that support them work very hard to help people with urgent food needs, but no matter how generous local donations are, they don’t get to the root of the problem: not enough money for food. It’s a situation known as food insecurity.

This matters because food insecurity, especially in its most severe form, takes a big toll on physical, mental and social health for everyone — children, teens and adults. This leads to use of more health care services, leading to higher health care costs.

More information about household food insecurity including income-expense scenarios for Simcoe County and for Muskoka based on 2017 Nutritious Food Basket survey results are available on the health unit Health Stats household food insecurity web page. 

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