Already struggling economically and physically, Christian Gonyo, 46, doesn’t know what the future will bring, but if recent moves by the province of Ontario are an indication, leaner times are on his horizon.
On March 25 the government announced in its 2010 spring budget that it would phase out the Special Diet Allowance.
The Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program offered people such as Gonyo, who has a medically-certified health condition, up to $250 in monthly-income support to be used to buy healthy, nutritious foods.
Now, with the cuts, Gonyo has been left wondering where his next healthy meal will come from. “I need (the special diet) for more expensive foods and supplements. Without it, I mean, I’m definitely going be in a seriously bad way,” he said.
Gonyo has fibromyalgia, a muscular disorder that can be very painful, triggering bowel and abdominal abnormalities. Sufferers are also sensitive to chemicals and changes in the environment. Right now he lives in subsidized housing.
“It’s very stressful because I have all sorts of sensitivities. It’s not the place I want to be, but I can’t afford better and without (the special diet) it’s even more unthinkable to leave,” he said.
“I get $240 a month and if they take that from me I’ll be right back where I was 10 years ago and that’s just devastating.”
The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) held a rally on April 19 demanding that the Ontario Liberals restore the Special Diet Allowance and increase social assistance rates by 40 per cent.
The move would bring welfare levels back to 1995 levels, when the Mike Harris government cut funding for social assistance programs by 22 per cent, and downloaded the bulk of social services on to the municipalities.
John Clarke, the president of OCAP, called the recent plan to strike the SDA “disgusting:
“This is a government that has claimed to represent something called poverty reduction and yet with the removal of the special diet (allowance) it has imposed a cut on people that is going to have the most incredible effect,” he said.
Shauna Lindzon, a registered dietitian, believes that if the allowance is taken away it may trigger high rates of malnutrition, and the diseases that follow.
“This population already has pre-existing medical conditions and not having the proper nutrition may compromise a healing immune system… It’s very important to get essential nutrients to stay healthy and to fight off disease,” she said.
Lisa Schofeild, 30, an eight-year OCAP veteran, does not want to see what will happen to people when the allowance stops coming in.
“What it’s going to mean, essentially, (is that) people are not going to be able to pay rent and buy food. Relying heavily on the food bank system we are going to see potentially mass evictions, the drop-ins are going to be full. We are going to see people getting sick really sick and that’s what worries me,” she said.
As for Gonyo, he will do his best to keep his life together but he won’t stop fighting for the help he needs.
“I’m really trapped, I just got to protest this,” he said.
The province has pledged to replace the program, but as of yet does not have an action plan.