Accountability for Social Assistance.

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The Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty has made three visits to the social assistance office in the past two weeks and have come out with a partial victory. You can read about the story on their website or at the Sudbury Star, but the short story is that Brenda had been turned down for more assistance in starting up her household again after a three week stint of being homeless. Coalition members accompanied her to the OW office on numerous occasions, and then to the office of the municipal director in charge. From there they were shuffled to a meeting room where three of the senior bureaucrats listened to their argument, had a private conference between the three of them, and then finally announced to the coalition members that they would change their policies slightly. They would increase the arbitrary cap on how much they give out for replacement beds from $200 to $300, and they would allow an extra $200 to anyone who like Brenda, loses everything. As a result of the changes Brenda obtained $300 more than she had previously been given.

My children and I were there as part of the Coalition. While we waited my kids played Minecraft and Angry Birds on our tablet and practiced doing the splits. I waited, worried slightly that some of the many supporters who came out would think that because so much of the day was spent waiting it was a waste of their time. It wasn’t a waste. Everyone there was needed, but it was our simple quiet presence that was needed.

The officials say that they have limited funds. They have to restrict how much they give or the pot will be empty. I can understand that in some ways, and I can understand that if they give out the money too quickly they might be accused of being irresponsible and incompetent. Yet I believe they are doing horrible wrong in acting that way. By focusing on protecting the money rather than meeting people’s needs they help maintain the lie that enough money is available. We need them to point out that their job is impossible. They cannot meet people’s needs while working within the budget they are given. Instead they pretend it is possible, by denying people’s needs exist and suggesting people should be satisfied with a paultry amount of second hand goods they can scratch together.

Too frequently the people denied funds just go quietly home to more frusturation, despair and sometimes debt. They do not realize that the policies are being made up as they go along. As individuals they can’t get meetings with the beaurocrats. Political parties like to speak about accountability (particularily when they are not the ones in power). There is a beaurocracy in place that will ensure that the social workers are accountable for not going over budget. Who will hold them accountable for meeting the needs of the poor?

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