TORONTO — Ontario is reversing funding cuts to a child benefit program that helps low-income families and refugee claimants as it conducts a broader review of the province’s social assistance programs.

A spokeswoman for Social Services Minister Todd Smith confirmed Thursday the Progressive Conservative government will not go ahead with scrapping the Transition Child Benefit — a $67 million annual program.

“After careful consideration, these programs will continue in their current form to all recipients in accordance with existing policies,” Christine Wood said in a statement.

“”Our government is constantly reviewing government programs in order to ensure we’re delivering on our key commitments to the people of Ontario.”

The child benefit — which provides up to $230 a month for low-income families not receiving other child benefits — had been scheduled to end Nov. 1.

The government announced in its spring budget it was cutting the program, prompting an outcry from municipal mayors and anti-poverty advocates who argued it would affect some of the province’s most vulnerable families.

The Transition Child Benefit was designed to help people not receiving the federal child benefit because they had not yet filed — or could not file — taxes.

NDP social services critic Lisa Gretzky said newcomers to Canada, the recently unemployed and other low-income families who had just had a child were the people predominately helped by the benefit.

“This was money that was going directly to feeding children and clothing children,” she said in a phone interview Thursday. “Cutting this without considering the incredible harm it was going to do not only to parents, but also children, (was) pretty cruel.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory — who had been among those urging the province to reverse the cut — lauded the government Thursday for changing course, saying the benefit should be permanently funded.

“I want to thank the Government of Ontario for listening to the concerns raised about the cancellation of this funding and the impact it would have on families, their housing needs in particular, and the City’s emergency shelter system which would have ended up as a destination of last resort for many families,” Tory said in a statement.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he could not offer praise to the government for cancelling a cut it should never have made in the first place.

“The natural impulse of this government is to take from those who have the least,” he said in a statement. “That they were even considering withdrawing funds that feed 32,000 children who live in poverty in this province is very troubling.”

Meanwhile, the Ford government has also cancelled a planned $28 million cut to the budgets of Children’s Aid Societies across the province.

Associate Minister of Children & Women’s Issues Jill Dunlop confirmed funding levels will be maintained to “ensuring predictable funding” to the child protection agencies.

“The services that are provided need to be truly responsive to the needs of children and youth,” she said in a statement. “I have been touring the province, meeting with Children’s Aid Societies about how we can reduce barriers and build a system that is better co-ordinated and focused on prevention.”

Schreiner said the government has moved too quickly making cuts that it’s now had to walk back — including slashing CAS budgets.

“Rather than taking the first year to listen and make informed decisions, the Ford government came in guns blazing, eager to slash and burn social spending without an ounce of consultation,” he said. “Instead of working to build Ontario up, they made plans for wholesale cuts that were fiscally and morally irresponsible.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2019.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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