THUNDER BAY - Provincial cuts to Legal Aid Ontario could result in clients unable to pay for rent or food, say representatives from one local legal clinic.
When the Ford government released its 2019 provincial budget, funding to Legal Aid Ontario was cut by $133 million or 35 per cent.
As a result, Legal Aid Ontario said it would be cutting funding to local legal clinics by more than $15 million or 16 per cent. Legal clinics in Ontario are independent, non-profit organizations.
Representatives with Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic in Thunder Bay say it is not clear yet how drastic the impact will be for local operations, but any reduction in funding is going to affect clients.
“Any significant reduction in our budget will result in reduced service. Most of our budget is for personnel; we have a very modest operating budget,” said Sally Colquhoun, coordinator of legal services at Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic. “All of our staff provide front-line service, including management staff. Our casework focus is on income maintenance and eviction prevention; we literally keep people off the streets.”
Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic provides legal advice and assistance with poverty law issues to low-income residents in Thunder Bay, particularly Aboriginal people. It focuses on assisting people in obtaining income maintenance benefits and maintaining access to housing.
According to Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, last year it obtained nearly $1 million in lump sum payments to low-income people, and another $850,000 annually in on-going monthly income, which is then injected back into the community in the form of rent payments to local landlords and food purchased at local stores.
“Community legal clinics help prevent homelessness and save expenses in other areas of government spending,” said Beth Ponka, director of administration at Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic. “Legal clinics provide much-needed services in our community and are an important part of our local economies.”
The Ford government is planning additional cuts, with Legal Aid Ontario funding reduced by 45 per cent or $164 million by 2021, which will see even further reductions to front-line services.
“Community legal clinics already operate on capped budgets, providing cost certainty to government,” said Trudy McCormick, co-chair of the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario.“Clinics are small, local offices, operating with minimal administration and no bureaucracy, making them flexible and client-oriented. All legal clinic staff work directly with or on behalf of low income clients. Simply put, these cuts will result in the loss of front line client service and advocacy.”