Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday April 27, 2019
Ontario budget cuts could pull millions of dollars out of Hamilton public health, child care programs
Ontario budget cuts will end an addiction counselling program for Hamilton welfare recipients and likely yank millions of provincial dollars from local child care and public health services, city officials say.
The Progressive Conservative government is shifting more of shared costs for public health and child care budgets to municipal taxpayers — the kind of move local politicians have long condemned as “downloading.”
The changes will be retroactive to April — meaning city council will likely have to choose between cutting services or forcing local taxpayers to cover extra costs, said Paul Johnson, general manager of healthy and safe communities.
Johnson said Wednesday he does not yet have enough information to predict exact budget shortfalls this year or possible changes to critical services like subsidized child care, for example.
“I have a level of frustration because I am unable to tell our councillors, our community, our residents what the next steps are or how their services may be affected,” he said. “We have many questions and we are seeking answers.”
The city will now be on the hook for a portion of $10-million in child care program costs previously fully covered by the province. Hamilton will also pay 30 per cent, rather than 25 per cent of public health program costs.
This year, local taxpayers put up $12.4 million for public health. If that number rises, council could look at program cuts, put off planned hires or dip into reserves to temporarily cover extra costs.
But Johnson said it’s too soon to “do the math” on extra costs because the city is not even sure which services will remain in the public health budget — and it is always possible the province will provide transition funding. (Ontario is also working on a plan to review responsibilities and merge municipal boards of health.)
The city is also bracing for news on budgets for Ontario Works, land ambulance and long-term care.
The only specific program casualty of the provincial cuts so far is the Addiction Services Initiative, a long-running pilot program that gives addiction counselling to welfare recipients aiming to rejoin the workforce. The province has confirmed it will no longer fund the program as of July. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)