The two mock judges in blue robes and paper wigs listened attentively.
Before them, a series of social assistance recipient “witnesses” told their stories about the impossibility of getting by on the money they receive.
Rhonda Cascello testified at the mock trial of the provincial government’s social assistance policy that she worked as a personal support worker for 14 years until she “took sick (going on disability support) and the reality set in …
“It’s a very, very sad situation, and it is getting worse.
“If they could step in our shoes for a day and see what it is like, I think they would have a change of heart and make things a little better to help the ones who really need it.”
Added Terry Williton: “We barely get enough to pay for the rent and have very little left for food. We go to food banks but the food is garbage. There is no good quality food.”
Single mother Ursula Samuels urged “less talk and more action.”
The event Monday at First Pilgrim United Church on Main Street East is part of a travelling “Poor People’s Inquiry” organized by the Put Food in the Budget campaign, a Toronto-based poverty activist group.
Leaders of the group are travelling around the province hosting community meetings that ask the question: “Have the changes Premier Kathleen Wynne made to social assistance put food in the budget?”
At each stop, a vote is taken at the end of the day’s “inquiry.”
In Hamilton, 25 voted that Wynne’s changes have not put food on the table for people who receive social assistance — with a lone vote that endorsed the government’s initiatives.
The last provincial budget contained a $14-a-month increase in social assistance, meaning a single person now receives $626.
However, the Commission to Review Social Assistance in Ontario recommends an immediate increase of $100 per month.
The budget also changed the rules so welfare recipients can earn up to $200 per month without facing clawbacks of their social assistance.
Coincidentally, two other poverty-fighting events — about raising the minimum wage from its current $10.25 per hour — are taking place in Hamilton: A Raise the (Minimum) Wage forum is scheduled at the library and the provincial Ontario government’s Chair of the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel government is visiting the city.
A Poor People’s Inquiry looking at social assistance
When: Wednesday, 1 to 3 p.m.
Where: St. Christopher’s Anglican Church, 662 Guelph Line, Burlington
Raise the Wage Forum organized by the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination
When: Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Hamilton Room, Hamilton Public Library Central Branch at 55 York Blvd.
Ontario government’s Chair of the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel will hear from businesses, labour and community advocates in a public meeting.
When: Tuesday at 1 p.m.
Where: Pavilion Room ‘A,’ Crowne Plaza Hamilton, 150 King St. E.