when i was 16, my parents ran away from home and left me on my own. I developed terrible social problems. Became a heavy drinker. Had several abortions. And a valium addiction from a six-month battle with Hodgkins disease, on top of everything else.
I did coke, shot heroin. Then both. I hit rock bottom. I kibbutzed and taught English in Cairo for a while to get away from the madness, determined when I returned to get my life in order. And then I landed smack in the middle of Tory Ontario.
Mike Harris may be out of the picture, but the mean province he created keeps its mitts firmly on my life.
I ended up on welfare and took a number of training programs designed to get unemployed people back to work.
I volunteered at a local TV station and anywhere else I could to bolster my resumé. I moonlighted as a waitress, became a bike courier. Took night classes. Had a kid. Got a job doing desktop publishing.
And miraculously managed to save $14,000 in RRSPs. I even got a pre-approved mortgage to buy a house. I dreamt of a secure future.
Not conscientious enough, it seems, for the Tory aristocracy. They deem that anyone with $5,000 in a savings account isn't allowed a daycare subsidy. This rule forced me to cash in my precious RRSPs to keep the subsidy that allows me to work, thus obliterating the fruits of all my hard work. I felt like it would be far easier to go back on welfare so at least I might be able to get subsidized housing.
As it is, my child and I have been living very modestly.
All our clothing and furniture are second-hand, sometimes recycled out of the garbage. We prepare all our food from scratch and carry lunch and snacks from home. We walk to daycare and work and seldom use the TTC or taxis. Our videos and books are all from the library. Outings are to the pool or park.
I want to get out of this poverty rut. The childcare services' mandate seems designed to keep me in it.
Every year around this time, I'm required to go in for my daycare subsidy review -- to prove, essentially, that I'm poor enough to receive the stipend.
This year was particularly brutal. My last two pay slips reflected an unusually busy time at work; working hard was not in my favour. The tax summary I brought from H&R Block wasn't sufficient. My caseworker went through a list of possible assets -- a car, a stereo -- that I guess other people might have. This just seemed like torture to someone who feels hopeless about ever having any financial freedom or security. I cried.
I was told I'd have to provide a sworn affidavit explaining what happened to the RRSPs I was forced to liquidate, just in case I was trying to pull a fast one. Truth is, after paying the 10 per cent penalty for cashing them in early -- not to mention 20 per cent more in taxes because I'm all of a sudden in another tax bracket -- there wasn't much left. I bought a new bed, stockpiled food, cleared some debt and sank $5,000 into a small fledgling business that I didn't tell them about, hoping it would pan out later.
I got a call after my meeting with childcare services and was shocked to discover that my assessment had not been updated at all. I was on the list to disqualify. It took me two days to straighten the situation out and get my subsidy back.
It seems that it's impractical for daycare centres to have working-poor parents as clients. Many centres will only provide full-time spaces. People who work part-time, like me, are forced to pay the centre even on days when our children are home with us, or risk losing the space altogther.
If ever I become unemployed, the subsidy I now receive will be gone in four weeks, not four months as in the past, so I'll have very little time to find a job. My RRSPs cashed and hours at work cut back, I now have about $600 in savings. Last week my landlord told me the building I'm living in is being sold and that I'll have to move before June. I have no idea what I'm going to do.
Brenda Vance is a pseudonym.