During the January 24th Regular Council meeting, Prince Edward County Council received a deputation from Kathy Kennedy, Executive Director of Prince Edward Learning Centre (PELC). Kennedy stressed the grave importance of financial literacy and empowerment and encouraged council to continue to support the Financial Empowerment Program at PELC.
In her deputation Kennedy asked that a request for $60,000 to support the Financial Empowerment Program be included in the 2023 Operating Budget Deliberations.
In speaking to council, Kennedy pointed to the challenges this term of council will face, from inflation to the housing crisis, and emphasized PELC is “a community partner, here to help where we can.”
PELC is an adult learning and community centre that serves all of Prince Edward County. They host a number of community programs, from essential skill upgrading to youth employment and training. They also host PEC Fresh Market, a wholesale food market that services approximately 100 people per month.
The PELC Financial Empowerment Program has four components: financial literacy and education, free tax filing, benefit screening and one-on-one counselling/problem solving.
Kennedy noted financial empowerment is a priority in the Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan and has also been identified as an area of importance in the past.
“The most recent plan calls for advocating for sustainable funding for financial empowerment programs, increasing resident access and ensuring a streamlined community referral and service delivery process,” she said.
In speaking to the need for financial empowerment, Kennedy illustrated the findings of Prosper Canada, which identified about 60 per cent of Canadians with incomes under $40,000 who say their biggest stressor in life is money.
With inflation, a housing crisis and skyrocketing food costs at the helm, Kennedy illustrated the various ways in which money woes can affect individuals.
“This shows up as homelessness, food insecurity, substance abuse, family violence…all reported in the most recent Vital Signs report,” said Kennedy. “The combined effects of Covid, changing demographics, inflation, and interest rates show us 60 per cent of people using our services do not feel their housing is affordable or secure and 87 per cent of people attending the program do not regularly have enough to eat.”
Likewise, financial insecurity has damaging effects at the municipal level. Kennedy noted financial insecurity costs municipalities 0.3% to 4.6% of the budget.
Conversely, financial empowerment of individuals who have benefited from the PELC program has resulted in a benefit of over $3 million per year.
“Overall financial impact of the program in this community is over 3 million per year,” stated Kennedy. “Just the ability to file taxes for free has put $48,000 back in the pockets of low-income people for other purchases.”
Tammy Harvey, Coordinator of the Financial Empowerment Program at PELC noted a sizeable increase in the number of tax returns filed in 2021.
“In 20222 we saw an almost 37 per cent increase in the number of tax returns filed over 2021 year, including an increase in the number of prior year filings and more complicated tax situations,” said Harvey. “Worldwide, we are seeing an increase in inflation, rising food costs, high utility bills and housing insecurity. This makes our financial empowerment program even more important today.”
In addition to filing taxes, Harvey noted 61 applications have been filed for an electricity support program as well as financial help for those in utility arrears.
Speaking to council, Harvey detailed a situation in which the Financial Empowerment Program at PELC helped an individual avoid homelessness.
“We assisted a client living alone on a fixed income having a hard time meeting basic needs. They were four years behind filing and were not receiving benefits like GST and Trillium. We assisted the client to access their tax slip info and filed all outstanding tax returns,” Harvey explained. “The value of filing past and present returns resulted in over $7,000 back in the pocket of the individual. We also discovered they had major hydro arrears, so we helped them apply for LEAP and referred them to another social service program providing up to $1,000 toward the same bill.”
“Homelessness was avoided for this individual,” Harvey added.
Kennedy noted 2023 goals include increasing access to financial supports for people in poverty as well as coordinating those supports to achieve better outcomes.
Hillier Councillor Chris Braney questioned Kennedy as to whether there were plans for greater outreach in the new year.
“Is there any plan moving forward to do outreach in some of other areas? I believe its probable people aren’t as familiar with it (outside of Picton) because it’s not right at their doorstep. I do think the service you provide is valuable for everyone in County,” said Braney.
Although there are outreach plans in the works, along with existing outreach, Kennedy stated the majority of low-income individuals live in Picton.
“We are working with libraries to look at an on-site clinics in Consecon and Wellington. We do work with Storehouse Foodbank to do outreach and distribute flyers,” said Kennedy. “They deliver to areas outside Wellington and Hillier. About 75 per cent of low-income people live in Picton.
Councillor Kate MacNaughton asked Kennedy whether the requested amount of $60,000 was sufficient.
Kennedy responded that they’re confident in the amount being asked. She also pointed out, as of April 1st, PELC does not have any secured funding for their Financial Empowerment Program. She also iterated that their goal is to augment the ask from council with money from other community agencies, such as United Way.
“As of April 1, we don’t have any secure funding for this program, so at the moment we don’t have the ability to continue,” Kennedy stated.
Ultimately, a MacNaughton/Prinzen motion for the $60,000 request from PELC to be considered as part of the Operating Budget deliberations passed.