Poverty, This Side of the Border

When agreeing to do the SNAP challenge, I mentioned that Canada doesn’t ‘do’ food stamps. I said I would find out the numbers that would be representative of poverty on this side of the border.

I received that information yesterday…and I’m here to tell you that there’s no way I would ever deliberately attempt to follow the same numbers here. Nope, nope, nope. The SNAP challenge is actually *easy* in comparison, in my humble opinion.

Ok, so here’s what I found out.

For a family of seven, two adults and five children, we would receive $820 for housing. This is important, because by checking available rentals, I took four places, and mine, and came up with an average of $1,350 a month for rent. Then, there was another $490 for ‘living allowance’. Do the math, folks. Even combining the housing allowance and living allowance, you’re short on your rent. Period. So, already screwed.

But, for the sake of the post, let’s say you’re lucky enough to get the cheapest place listed, at $1,100 a month. Quick math shows that leaves you with $210.

Now, that’s not for the entire month, thankfully.

Just for twenty days or so.

Grim reality of poverty for too many children.

Grim reality of poverty for too many children.

Canada offers something called, “Child Tax Benefit”. Its paid out on the 20th of every month, as long as you file your taxes every year. Using the numbers from assistance as being the sole source of income, and the Universal Child Care Benefit, at $200 a month for two childen under seven, it appears that our CTB for the month would be $1,451.16 for a family our size.

As long as you could survive, as a family of seven, until the 20th of the month on $210, you’d be able to eat again. But, would you?

Lets look at this a bit deeper, ok?

After rent, you have $210. Let’s assume that all goes to food. But…you’re expected to do a job search while on assistance. Makes sense. We’ve got the net at home, and a computer, so we’re lucky in that. Otherwise, it’s a about a half hour walk to the local library, and other job finding assistance. Easy, right? Unless it’s in the winter. But, yes, doable on foot. Ok.

Here’s the kicker: most jobs are a half hour drive away, in the ‘big’ city. So, the chances of getting a job interview in walking distance? Slim to none. Or one of the kids needs to go to the doctor? Chances are, you’re going to need to put some gas in your vehicle at some point, even if you do your best to walk every where you can. (Although, if you live in the city, you can get a bus pass for free). So, lets assume that you’re going to need to put $30 in your vehicle for gas. (To give you an idea, a full tank runs us about $100, so $30 is really, REALLY diddly squat here).

So now you’re down to $180. For seven people. For twenty days.

I have two children in diapers. A big box of diapers, each? Looking at about $35 – $40. Each. So. $70 – $80. Plus tax, but we’ll stick with the $70. Now you’re down to $110. Do the math folks. $110/20=5.50. $5.50a day, for SEVEN people to survive on. That’s $0.79 per person. Any wonder why food banks are so desperate for donations, year round?

Well, you might say, there’s $1,451.16 on the 20th! Make that last! Oh, and I forgot: if you have a child under seven years old, you receive $100 a month, per child for Universal Child Care Benefit. So, that adds another $200 in my budget, bringing the total on the 20th (yes, paid the same day) up to $1,651.16 (although, I’ll be honest here, folks: because that $200 is taxable income, I’m pretty sure you’d lose some, if not *all* of it from your original $490, but its Saturday, and I can’t confirm that, so I’m going to ignore that reality for now)

Ok, let’s do some more math.

A family our size isn’t going to fit in an apartment. Even if we tried, nobody’s going to rent an apartment to a family our size. (Honestly, we’re trying to find a larger four bedroom, and haven’t been successful yet.) So, you need to pay your utilities. In the winter, my gas bill (heat) averaged about $300 a month. Older house, leaky windows, lack of insulation. (And yes, we covered the windows in plastic). During the summer, looking about $40, fall, about $70. So, lets average that out. Lets say Nov- March is the $300. April to August, $40, Sept and Oct, $70. That gives you an average of $153 a month in gas. Power is cheap in comparison, about $60 a month. Phone? A quick check for the most basic of packages, a basic, no frills home phone, before any taxes or service fees, the cheapest I see is $25 a month. If you add internet on there (we homeschool, so internet really is a must, b/c with my disability, I *can’t* manage that half hour walk each way to the library) it’s another $30 for their most basic of packages. Add taxes, etc in on there, and you’re probably looking at about $60 a month.

So, for basic utilities, there’s an average of $153 for gas, $60 for power, $60 for phone and internet. By the way, Canada has extremely HIGH cell phone fees, so saving money by going to a cell phone? Not likely to happen here.

That’s $273 just for utilities for the month.

Lets not forget car insurance. And rental insurance. B/c its a condition of your lease here to have renters insurance. Wolf is a great driver, clean record, our vehicle is not a super luxury vehicle, etc…and our insurance? Just a tick under $200 a month. Now we’re up to $473 a month for utilities and insurance.

Now, that leaves you with $1142.16 Oh, but wait!

Do you need more gas for your vehicle? Do the kids need clothes, shoes? Winter is coming, kids grow…

If you put $100 in your vehicle for gas (remember, trying to make things last until the 20th of the next month), now its $1042.16.

Needing clothes? Shoes? Well, there’s seven people in the house. Even going with consignment, Goodwill, and Salvation Army, let’s be really, REALLY conservative and say a total of $100.

Now, you’re down to $942.16.

Babies need diapers again. Stocking up, and buying two boxes each, that’s $140.

$802.16 now.

Oh, but we forgot! How much do you spend on toilet paper, cleansers, laundry detergent, dish soap, etc? All that stuff you buy at the grocery store, that you can’t eat? Now, I make my own laundry detergent, but last time I checked, a jug of the cheap laundry detergent was about $6. Then there’s toothpaste, soap, shampoo, feminine hygiene products…I’m going to *guess* and say that non-edible grocery store purchases, about $50 a month.


For 30 days. For seven people. A bit more math, now. Works out to $3.58 per day, per person. Add back in the $0.79 from the first 20 days, and you get a whopping $4.37 And that’s assuming that you don’t lose any of the $200, and that you can make the meagre budget I cited work for you, and there are no extra trips needing more gas in the vehicle, and that you can stick to $100 for a clothing allowance.  If you have a child with a birthday that month, and want to spend *anything* on them, your whole budget can be shot to heck. Or someone’s sick, and you need any sort of fever reducing or pain meds. $8 for a bottle of kid pain reliever, and someone may be going hungry that day. Or diapers cost you more than $35 a box.

That’s the reality of poverty in my province.

And it terrifies me for those stuck in that situation.

$4.37 per person, per day. Assuming nothing goes wrong, and you can manage on the numbers I gave. If your rent is more, if your utilities are higher., if you lose part or all of the Universal Child Care Benefit ($200)…

If you lose all $200, that would give you a total of: $552.16 for 30 days. Which equals $18.41. Which breaks down to $2.63 per person. Giving you a whopping total of $3.42 a day, per person, once you add in the $0.79 a day.

I feel ill.

Links used to find amounts:

http://www.hsd.gov.bc.ca/mhr/ia.htm – Assistance table for British Columbia

http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/bnfts/clcltr/cctb_clcltr-eng.html – Calculation for Child Tax Benefit, using a) British Columbia b) married c) the amount from the table from above link, and d) Each child under the age of 7 receives $100 per month, taxable income for ‘Universal Child Care’ allowance.


You’ll note that I didn’t include any debt payments in my budget. I figure, if you’re on assistance, repaying debt simply isn’t a consideration. You CAN’T AFFORD IT. Regardless of what your life may have been *before* needing assistance, if you’re on it, you need every penny you can get to survive. God help you, if, like us, you have a vehicle payment, because you’re going to lose the vehicle, and then how will you find a job?!

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Poverty, This Side of the Border — 11 Comments

  1. I am always glad when bloggers blog about poverty. I’m in Canada too, and I remember the time when I used to think that the existence of social assistance means people don’t have to worry about poverty. We need blog posts to help challenge people to think outside of that. Social assistance rates are no where near adequate.

    I’m in Ontario, and right now I’m steaming mad because our premier is congratulating herself at giving $42 million towards “Homelessness Prevention” and what she forgets to mention is that the $42 million is just a portion of what her party took away from the program just a couple of years ago when they renamed the program Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (from the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit). It is/was a program that helped people on social assistance with those things that they can’t possibly save for…. the furniture, moving costs, etc. What happens if someone living on social assistance gets a bedbug infestation? How would getting rid of that or replacing one’s mattress feature into the monthly budget?

    • Or the sprays, or whatever else would need to be tossed. I’ve heard the only way to get rid of them is to get rid of *everything*.

      I was in ON when they cut Social Assistance/welfare/whatever they’re calling it now by 22%. I was ‘lucky’ enough to be in college, and getting OSAP at the time. More to live on, mountain of debt. A good friend of mine at the time told me, “The poor are the Jews of the 90s” Both of his parents survived concentration camps, so from him, that was an incredible statement.

  2. In Ontario, the UCCB is under 6 (so the form from the gov. tells me), not 7, but we also have the “Trillium Benefit” (another $70 or so), and in my area, we have Wind Mobile, which gives Skeeve and I pretty impressive cell phone plans (including unlimited data and tethering, so we could theoretically cut out internet services) for $120 combined. We live well below the “low income cut-off” and even more fun, despite the fact that we had a young child in the house (as in, 3yo), we couldn’t afford to be on assistance. Because I’m a new permanent resident, any assistance we received (despite trying to support a three-person family on under the LICO for two), would have to be repaid in full. We’ll pretend we could ever afford that. We are extremely lucky to have a roommate in the house who we split bills with, or there would be no way we could reasonably stay afloat. Buying a home is WELL out of reach, despite it being less costly than renting. At this point, we’re just holding on, and hoping Skeeve is able to land the next promotion coming through his office, pulling us to (hopefully) somewhere near the LICO. It’s kind of sad when there is little we can do (I’m not going back to work, it’d cost more in child care than I’d make, and Mad Natter has special needs that mean homeschool is essential) but wait for a promotion and a raise that will let us feel rich… while still remaining below LICO. How does this even happen?

  3. Oh wow, that is a tough reality to swallow. How are people ever supposed to get ahead?

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