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Family care deemed “non-essential” under the Student Choice Initiative

Affordable child care at U of T at risk due to provincial cuts
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The university’s Family Care Office (FCO) potentially faces a severe impact on its operations as a result of defunding through the Ontario government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI).  

The SCI, which was announced in January and is set to take effect in the 2019–2020 academic year, enables students to opt out of “non-essential” incidental fees and reduce their university expenditure. Child care falls under the list of services deemed non-essential, alongside student levies and legal services. 

A saving grace for affordable care 

For students, staff, and faculty taking care of dependents, the FCO provides a variety of services across U of T’s three campuses, including child care spaces, before and after school programs, family-friendly programming, and counselling.  

The office, which operates as a not-for-profit service funded by incidental fees and university funding, aims to support individuals who are otherwise not able to afford such services. Undergraduate and graduate students pay approximately $1.91 and $2.10 per term, respectively, toward the FCO and Early Learning Centre.

The university also rents out affordable family housing units for $796 to $1,305 per month. These units come with on-site child care and support from Residence Life staff and FCO counsellors to help families through their transition to U of T. 

Funded child care centres can be an important resource for families, given the rising costs of child care expenses and high demand for limited spaces in the city. When asked about potential defunding as a result of the SCI, the U of T administration communicated uncertainty about its full effect. 

“We don’t know yet the effect the Student Choice Initiative will have on funding for the Office. We will have a better sense this fall when we know what choices students made,” wrote U of T spokesperson, Elizabeth Church. “In addition to support from student fees, the Office receives funding from the university.” 

“The Family Care Office provides services to all members of our community. It provides important support to our students who are parents and also those who have other family obligations such as caring for a parent, grandparent or sibling,” wrote Church. “The contributions it receives from student fees support these services and we hope that support continues.”

Toronto’s child care costs are on the rise

Toronto is estimated to have the highest child care costs in the country. A 2017 study shows that child care costs have risen higher than inflation rates. 

With the help of the federal government’s taxable Child Care Benefit, eligible families receive up to $2,000 per child in order to mitigate these costs. However, for Toronto and Ontario families, this benefit is offset by recent cuts made by the provincial government.

Earlier this year, the Ontario government had pledged to create 30,000 spaces province-wide under its 2019 budget. As a result, Toronto was expected to open more than 3,000 new child care centres by Fall 2022.

But in May 2019, the provincial government cancelled a $50 million fund that helped child care centres cover labour costs, putting a delay on slated spaces. 

In August 2019, the government approved further cuts, forcing municipalities to pay 20 per cent of labour costs to build new child care centres. Previously, the provincial government under the Liberal administration helped the municipal government cover these costs. 

The City of Toronto was given two months to extend the funding deadline. It is estimated that the city would need an additional $35 million to compensate for the decrease in provincial funding. These cuts also put families at risk of spending upwards of $20,000 a year on child care costs alone.

“The university will work to limit any effect a possible reduction of fees might have on the Office’s services on our three campuses,” wrote Church. “The contributions it receives from student fees support these services and we hope that support continues.” 

Students can choose their opt-out selections for the fall 2019 term on ACORN by September 19.