But unions claim budget ‘fails to deliver the supports required to stabilize frontline healthcare workers’
Ontario has released its 2021 Budget which includes investments into the long-term care system and supports for workers.
“You can't have a healthy economy without healthy people,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, minister of finance and president of the treasury board. “For the past year, we have been focused on protecting people from COVID-19. Many challenges lie ahead. But with vaccines being distributed in every corner of the province, hope is on the horizon. We are ready to finish the job we started one year ago.”
Under Ontario's Action Plan: Protecting People's Health and Our Economy, the government is investing an additional $933 million over four years, for a total of $2.6 billion, into the long-term care system to support building 30,000 new long-term care beds.
Ontario is also investing $246 million over the next four years to improve living conditions in existing homes. To protect LTC residents from COVID-19, the province is investing an additional $650 million in 2021–22, bringing the total resources invested since the beginning of the pandemic to protect the most vulnerable to over $2 billion.
The province is also setting aside $4.9 billion over four years to increase the average direct daily care to four hours a day in long-term care, a policy first announced in November 2020. It is also hiring more than 27,000 new positions, including personal support workers (PSWs) and nurses.
Ontario also announced supports for workers, including the following:
- an additional funding of $175 million in 2021–22 as part of a historic investment of $3.8 billion over 10 years to help those in need address mental health and addiction issues
- proposing a new Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit for 2021 to help workers with their training expenses. It would provide up to $2,000 per recipient for 50 per cent of eligible expenses, for a total of an estimated $260 million in support to about 230,000 people in 2021.
- providing a third round of payments to support parents through the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit, totalling $1.8 billion since last March. The payment will be doubled to $400 per child for this round and $500 for each child with special needs, which means a family with three young children, one of whom has special needs, will receive $2,600 in total after the third round of payments.
- proposing a 20 per cent enhancement of the CARE tax credit for 2021 to support parents with the cost of child care and help them get back to the workforce. This would increase support from $1,250 to $1,500, on average, providing about $75 million in additional support for the child care expenses of over 300,000 families.
More details about the budget is available here.
In November 2020, Ontario announced its $45 billion, three-year Ontario's Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover to respond to the serious health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
The latest budget is a positive step toward health and economic recovery, said Warren Thomas, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO) president.
“Without a healthy workforce there is no economy. Protecting workers and businesses, saving lives and investing in front line public services, like health, education and job training, is our ticket to economic recovery and prosperity – not just in 2021 but for many years to come,” said Thomas. “While there are things we think need more investment – like post-secondary education and long-term care – we are heartened to see this provincial government rejects austerity.”
However, other unions are not satisfied with the budget, claiming it fails to address the needs of frontline workers.
“The women and men serving on the frontline of our healthcare system are experiencing an economic and emotional depression, yet today's budget fails to deliver the supports required to stabilize the workforce,” said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare. “Healthcare workers have been calling on Premier Ford to make the initial $4 per hour 'pandemic pay' available to all frontline heroes fighting COVID and to make it permanent, yet his budget ignores their demand for respect and economic security.”
“There is very little in this budget that provides the immediate relief that our dedicated registered nurses and health-care professionals need,” said Vicki McKenna, president of Ontario Nurses' Association. “ONA would like to see more funding going to not-for-profit health care, rather than to for-profit facilities that have proved to be so troubled during COVID-19. Announced funding for more nurses for retirement homes does not address long-term care RN staffing.”
Staffing is one of the many issues hampering the LTC system, according to reports that date back to 1999 complied by the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO).
“We understand the need to support small businesses and other aspects of our economy affected by COVID-19, however, nurses expected that the budget would also address the nursing shortfalls that exist in our health system so we can provide the best care that Ontarians need now and after the pandemic ends,” said Morgan Hoffarth, RNAO president.