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Councillor questions mayor's plan to add child-care subsidies while cutting grant

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Author: 
Monsebraaten, Laurie
Publication Date: 
17 Jan 2017
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Toronto Mayor John Tory’s plan to add 300 child care subsidies by cutting a grant that helps lower costs for parents who use daycares in schools is being called “cynical” and “bad public policy.”

“What is very sad about the mayor’s proposal is that he intends to fund fee subsidies for low-income families by increasing fees for parents who are already stretched to pay the full fees,” said Councillor Janet Davis.

“We should be helping all families to access affordable child care, not taking from one group to assist another,” she added. “It is cynical, bad public policy and it is definitely the wrong way to address inadequate access to child care in Toronto.”

Tory unveiled the plan Tuesday at Dane Avenue Child Care Centre, a new 62-space centre for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers built on city land as part of a condominium development near Dufferin St. and Lawrence Ave. W.

A recent city report found that licensed child care — which costs an average of $1,400 a month for children under 4 — is unaffordable for about three-quarters of families. As a result, almost 14,000 kids are waiting for subsidies.

The lack of subsidies also means many daycares have space they can’t fill, which puts centres at risk, Tory told reporters.

“By adding these subsidies we are improving access to child care for the parents who need it the most,” he said. “And we’re helping to ensure that child care operators, like those here in Dane Ave., have stable enrolment, which allows them to run successful, sustainable child care centres over the long-term.”

Since each subsidy costs an average of $10,000 a year, Tory’s proposal would cost about $3 million. He would pay for it by “repurposing” a city grant that offsets rent for daycares in schools, arguing it is not fair to centres in other locations.

City staff have already proposed axing the grant to save $1.13 million this year and $2.26 million in 2018. Tory asked all departments to cut their budgets by 2.6 per cent to address a $91 million shortfall. City council votes on the budget in February.

If the province acts on the city’s request last year to pick up the cost of the grant, it would ensure parents using daycares in schools aren’t hit with higher fees as a result of the move, Tory noted. But that seems unlikely in the short-term.

A spokesman for Associate Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris, said municipalities are responsible for allocating provincial child care dollars and that Toronto already receives $306 million from Queen’s Park, a 57-per-cent increase since 2004.

“The ministry is seeking to engage with school boards and early years partners to review the issue of accommodation costs,” as part of the government’s work on a broader provincial framework to make child care more accessible and affordable for Ontario families, said Lucas Malinowski in an email.

Councillor Pam McConnell, who is responsible for the city’s poverty reduction strategy, said she is pleased Tory is talking about child care. But she noted it is just the beginning of a “very necessary discussion with our partners at the province.”

In a unanimous vote Monday, the city’s community development and recreation committee called on the city’s budget committee to add 340 new fee subsidies, including 75 approved last year but not funded as well as 265 to ensure half of new spaces being built in 2017-18 are affordable.

The committee also urged the budget committee to keep the city’s occupancy grant for daycares in schools and add $2 million to ensure 2,000 subsidies currently funded through dwindling child care reserves are permanently funded.

“I support the province picking up the (daycare) occupancy costs in schools,” Davis said. “But until that issue has been resolved with the province, the city should not be cutting the grant.”

Davis said the mayor is wrong to suggest it is unfair for the city to be subsidizing rent for daycares in schools and not elsewhere.

“The city should be making child care more affordable for all families not increasing the cost to some families to make it more affordable for others. It’s not fair and it is the wrong direction to go.”

-reprinted from Toronto Star 

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Entered Date: 
18 Jan 2017
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