As we move into 2014 there are a number of issues to watch for, but one in particular stands out. Over the next few months the government will renew funding agreements for the Canada Health Transfer and Canada Social Transfer. Billions of dollars that impact that health and well being of people living in Canada are at stake, which can have a profound impact on poverty. While announcements regarding both have been made, the deal has yet to be finalized.
The Canada Health Transfer was secured by the 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care that was signed in 2004. This plan ensured steady, consistent and adequate funding to provincial and territorial health care systems across the country. Bound by the guidelines of the Canada Health Act, implementation of the funding had to ensure services were universal and accessible to everyone in the country, regardless of where you live. The 10-year plan laid the framework for health funding – bringing in $41.3 billion to the provinces and territories during this time period through set funding that grew annually at 6%. This is all set to change.
The federal government announced in 2011 that the 6% increase will stop in 2016-17 fiscal year and be replaced by an amount that would float with the GDP, but not dip below 3%. Essentially leaving a gap that must be filled by the provinces. It is estimated that provinces will lose $21 billion over the life of the deal (which expires in 2024).
While provincial and territorial premiers were expecting open negotiations around this change, the federal government chose to impose new rules outside of consultation.
As mentioned in a previous blog, “Poverty and health go hand-in-hand. People in poverty are more likely to use the health care system because of physical and mental health issues or illness, and be more likely to face an early death. Stress, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, and unstable social environments are a few reasons for this.”
Unlike the CHT, the Canada Social Transfer does not come with strings attached. Money that is sent to the provinces and territories are divvied up according to the choices made by those governments. Set for social programs, the CST funds will be funneled into education, housing, and social services, but as to the amount each gets, or whether these programs are meeting the needs of individuals and families, remains to be seen as there is no reporting requirement attached to the transfer.
The CST is calculated on a per capita basis. The cash transfers are set at 3% growth (since 2009-10), and the government has committed to continuing the transfers at this level beyond 2014. However, what is missing is an accountability mechanism that requires premiers to explain how money is spent and the impact of the funds on the ground. This is crucial to ensuring a social safety net exists across Canada that actually catches people (which we know is not the case in regards to social assistance).
Both the CST and CHT are essential investments that support poverty reduction. Adequate, predictable, accountable and sustained federal transfers are required in areas critical to addressing poverty, including, but not limited to, affordable housing, early learning and child care, child benefits, extended health coverage [drug, dental, vision], and training.
While the renewal of the CHT and CST is set to be finalized before the end of the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the federal government seems firm in its conviction to cut critical health funding impacting millions of people in Canada. No current plans exist to establish a reporting practice in regards to the CST, but there is still time to ensure this happens.
Our colleagues at the Canadian Association of Social Workers have created a webpage to support a strong CST called “Defending our Social Programs”. It is worth a read.