THUNDER BAY -- The Regional Food Distribution Association of Northwestern Ontario is seeing an increase in clients unable to afford the rising cost of hydro bills. That echoes a report from the Ontario Association of Food Banks that says high electricity bills are having a devastating impact on the lives of low-income Ontarians.
Food banks serve 335,000 adults and children each month, and the association is calling on the Liberal government to boost hydro assistance, particularly for the most impoverished families.
In a report released today, the association said many food banks have stepped in to offer their own utility assistance and hydro payment plans to clients.
But it added even the food banks -- like many Ontario businesses -- are struggling with their own hydro bills.
“The help that currently exists from the provincial government is not comprehensive or inclusive enough for the majority of Ontario families struggling to make ends meet,” the report said.
It is urging the government to expand both the Ontario Electricity Support Program and the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, which provides a one-time emergency payment of up to $500 for people behind on their bills. Executive-director Carolyn Stewart said the guidelines for qualifying for help are too stringent, and the help itself amounts to a “drop in the bucket.”
Volker Kromm, executive-director at the Thunder Bay-based RFDA, said more food bank clients are bringing up the issue of their hydro bills when they come in to pick up food.
“That’s going to become very problematic because they’re having to make decisions on what to eat or whether to stay warm or turn on their lights. Especially seniors, those individuals living on minimum wage in some of those bottom-end jobs…they have started talking.”
Kromm said the predicament more clients are now finding themselves in with respect to energy costs is reflected in their having to come to a food bank more often for help. “As opposed to coming in once a month, they’re having to find more food, find more food banks, and go more frequently so that they can have hydro.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said in a recent speech that more relief is on the way, in addition to an eight per cent rebate set to kick in on Jan. 1, 2017.
In the legislature on Monday, the NDP called on the province to impose a moratorium on hydro disconnections. NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said 60,000 residential customers had service cut off last year for non-payment.
(with files from the Canadian Press)