TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - November 28, 2016) - The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) released a new report today, revealing that over 335,000 individuals -- more than one third children -- are turning to food banks each month. The 2016 Hunger Report finds that despite improvements in the economy, food bank use remains seven per cent higher than pre-recession numbers, and illustrates how staggering hydro prices and lack of quality employment are contributing to increased hunger in Ontario.
"Despite reports of economic recovery, food banks continue to see disturbingly high levels of use and need," says Carolyn Stewart, Executive Director, Ontario Association of Food Banks. "This is a direct reflection of the type of employment available to Ontarians, insufficient social assistance, and the dramatic increase in cost of living, particularly related to housing and hydro."
The 2016 Hunger Report shows that while many Ontarians have gone back to work, fewer have access to secure, full-time employment that allows them to afford their most basic necessities on an ongoing basis. It is stated that 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," says 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 report exemplifies the impact that increasing hydro rates are having on Ontarians by citing the $172.5 million in outstanding hydro bills in the province, and the 60,000 homes that were disconnected last year for failing to pay. While the province does offer some relief through the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) and the Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP), the report argues that the eligibility requirements for these programs are problematic and that the support being offered is often insufficient.
"There are thousands of Ontarians struggling to cover overdue bills while trying to keep their lights on and furnaces running," says Stewart. "As a result, Ontario's food banks are seeing an increase in the number of clients who say they simply cannot keep up with their rising hydro bills and are having to make a difficult choice between two of their most basic necessities: heat or food."
To help address this growing challenge, many food banks have started offering utility support programs, hydro assistance and 'heat banks', alongside their hunger-relief programs and services. Provincially, the Ontario Association of Food Banks is calling for the Government of Ontario to implement policies that address the root causes of hunger, including improvements to social assistance programs and increases to affordable housing.
The 2016 Hunger Report also features three client testimonies, including that of Sherry-Selena Hucul in Lanark County. Sherry-Selena is a single mother of four with one son who requires the use of a bi-pap machine for his severe obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.
"I get really anxious when I receive a disconnection notice because they've raised the rates again," says Hucul. "This past month my hydro increased again. I've used LEAP to avoid disconnection and applied for the OESP credit, but that is still pending... Hydro increases are affecting people's lives -- we can never get ahead and it feels hopeless."
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.
- Precarious Employment
- 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.
To download a full copy of the 2016 Hunger Report, or to find out more about food banks in Ontario and how you can donate, please visit: www.oafb.ca/hunger-report.
About the OAFB:
The Ontario Association of Food Banks is the province's leading provider of emergency food support to frontline hunger-relief agencies and the leader in province-wide hunger research. Our mission is to strengthen communities by providing food banks with food, resources, and solutions that address both short and long-term food insecurity. For every $1 donated, the Ontario Association of Food Banks can provide the equivalent of 3 meals to someone in need.