« Media of exchange and the clearing house | Main | Monetary policy, fiscal policy, the target, and the size of the central bank »

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Haste is necessary because people who lost food would need food to eat now, not later. Some people are on fixed food budgets and do not have a reserve fund available for emergencies.

A rebate on a hydro bill is not appropriate as a measure for alleviating need because the worst affected were people in tall buildings where elevators stopped working. People in tall buildings often pay a fixed rent or lease that bundles utilities.

Leo:
Good points.Three things. 1) I find the food spoilage argument a more convincing one if the power outage had been in hot summer weather. 2). Surely people who do not have a reserve fund for emergencies are probably also already people who are registered with food banks/ or welfare programs. The assistance could have been better targeted to these individuals. 3)As for people in apartments, I know a number of "tall building"apartment dwellers in Southern Ontario and they pay utilities including hydro separately. Even if they did not, it would be possible to calculate a payment even if hydro is bundled.

Another attempt at Toronto vote buying.
Nothing surprises me with the length this gov. will go to, to remain in power.

No means test, no thought outside of their central Toronto constituency.

Luckily I was only out for 24 hours and food in fridge and deep freezer did not warm up. My parents were out for 13 hours and my sister for 48 hours. My wife's boss was out for 7 days and had to spend days at relatives and friends.

It was an inconvenience for my family and I, but did I lose anything? Not really. But next time the gov. Is handing out free money ill line up too.

Leo,

The problem with the haste argument is that it only makes sense if you believe that assistance can be both hasty and targeted at those people who actually need it. Think about the mechanics of the distribution mechanism that the provincial government chose to distribute these gift cards. In effect, to get them you had to be able (and willing) to line up for hours in freezing weather. That's a mechanism almost designed to ensure that the truly vulnerable (the elderly, the disabled, single parents with small children or the working poor) wouldn't be able to get them.

And, of course, there's no assurance that the people who did line up had actually suffered spoillage. It's a testament to the decidedly middle-class world-view of the Liberals that they think that people who lived hand to mouth have large amounts of perishable food stashed away. no doubt the denizens of Don. Valley East, where Kathleen Wynne lives, lost vast quantities of organic kale and free-range turkeys. But canned veggies, tuna and pasta generally don't go bad. Providing the gift cards to food banks would at least have ensured that they were received by people in genuine need.

No, the government's decision to hand out gift cards in the way they did was driven by two related, and cynical, calculations. First, they wanted to be seen to be doing something. This is an all too common mantra with this particular provincial government. That that "something" might be ineffective or counterproductive is neither here nor there (witness their policies on "green" - as in money - energy and early childhood education), what matters is that they did "something". Second, they wanted to make sure that the they received the credit for whatever it was they did. Giving gift cards to foodbanks or adding a stipend to Ontario Works payments for January would have been obvious (and obviously more efficient and effective) ways of providing compensation. But it would have been low profile. Handing out (near-)cash, well, doesn't that show the public that the Wynne government cares? It's all the more cynical given that most of the gift cards were actually donated by private grocery stores. Talk about ballsy, buying votes with someone else's gifts.

The only difference between Wynne's decision to hand out gift cards and the Ford Brothers buying votes with $20 bills is that they at least have the decency to use their own money. (Well, that and cash is more efficient that gift cards)

Bob: Hanlon's razor - never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Patrick - can't it be both? Heinlein's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don't rule out malice"

The proposal of offering a rebate on hydro bills makes a lot of sense, except for a detail that makes it quite regressive. Many people live in apartment buildings (or rent rooms) and pay rent with utilities included, and this group is skewed towards lower incomes. These people would be much less likely to actually see any of the rebate - the landlord will pocket it when possible. The only renters who will see savings are those who know about the rebate and can successfully negotiate with their landlord, and they face an information asymmetry when doing so (the landlord can lie about the amount rebated). So this policy would be a handout to homeowners and landlords, and would do little to help many of the people who are the most adversely affected by the power outage (in terms of ability to pay, not total food lost).

What happened to helping victims of natural disasters with goods in kind?

How are we going to convince west coast aboriginals that 'we' are good environmental stewards when 'we' keep compensating those who build and live in flood plains?

I tried looking at the alternatives. What sort of means test would actually work? Discarded food is ... discarded. And try *proving* that your specific residence was without power. Outages ranged from entire regions dropped by a lost feeder to individual houses in an otherwise ok area hit with a branch across their own electric drop. Successfully proving an outage would place a tremendous burden on the electric utilities, on top of it being the case that some of the affected people are not the ones paying the electric bill.

As far as I can see, just about any means test will incur extremely high transaction costs, and/or impose high levels of externalities. And many other forms of payment system would also incur transaction costs.

So - the minimal means test is "does your address match an affected area?", "do you honestly claim to have lost food?". And the payment is "here's a fifty dollar food card".

That level of testing can be done immediately and with a very lightweight process. At that point, the best option is to do it quickly, so that food (something most people consider essential) can be replaced in a timely fashion. Not everyone is scraping the bottom of the financial barrel to buy groceries, but some are.

I can see that the program has some issues. But I really don't see that any *other* program has lesser issues.

It's not always going to be the case that "doing something poorly" is the best course of action. But - in this case - unless you can suggest a workable alternative, this looks like it is close to being the best that could be achieved.


If nothing else, governments have shown they are quite loose with taxpayer money, especially when an election is close at hand. This particular provincial government had been spending money at a breakneck speed, just look at how much the taxpayers are on the hook for regarding the gas plant cancellation that for all intents and purposes appears to have been cancelled to try and win some seats in the last election. As much as it was painted as an attempt to help, it was electioneering and we will likely see a lot more of it in the months ahead...

If there isn't any quick or credible means test, why make people stand in line for a gift card. If every hour counts why not hire or get volunteers to distribute gift cards to each address in a affected region. There are companies that distribute flyers that have the logistics to do this. Why waste time asking people if they had food spoilage or not.

Going door to door they could even ask if the elderly and immobile people need assistance. I'm sure there are better ways to really help people.

"But - in this case - unless you can suggest a workable alternative, this looks like it is close to being the best that could be achieved."

What, exactly, has been achieved? 300,000 households were without power, the government has (or will, it has announced further distribution outside of Toronto), what, 10,000 gift cards, with little or no effective mechanism to ensure that the cards were received by people who actually lost food (and, in fact, given the distribution mechanism chosen by the government, it likely precluded many particularly vulnerable people from obtaining them). This is the functional equivalent of tossing gift cards into the crowd at the Santa Claus parade - if the government thinks that's "the best that could be achieved" it needs to be replaced. And so much for being an emergency, it took the government the better part of two weeks to distribute those cards.

Want a better mechanism? Try giving the gift cards to local food banks - i.e., organizations whose sole purpose is to provide food to people in need on an emergency basis (and, as an aside, have existing infrastructure to assess need). Certainly that would have ensured that the aid was received by people who were truly vulnerable. Isn't that a solution that faster, more effective, easier (and blindingly obvious)? Of course, then the government doesn't get to claim credit for helping people.

"Try giving the gift cards to local food banks" - Dec 30, Daily Bread Food Bank news blog "The Daily Bread Food Bank is currently working to coordinate distribution which will begin in Toronto. The initiative will be expanded to other affected municipalities as needs are identified."

It sounds like there is already some involvement there (although I haven't find any information on what that involvement is).

This statement has been around since December 30th, but I didn't find it until I went looking in detail. This leaves me with my usual quandry -- how much of what I would like to know about this situation is just not being reported by the media? Using the food banks IS blindingly obvious -- and is apparently happening, but you wouldn't know it if you read a newspaper or listened to radio or watched television.

Chris, how carefully did you read the Daily Bread Foodbank blog? From the blog:

"Ice Storm Food Relief The Ontario provincial government is coordinating a program to provide some money towards replacing perishable food lost due to power outages as a result of last week’s ice storm. Families will be eligible for up to $100, and individuals $50 in grocery gift cards. The cards will be available at Ontario Works offices from December 31 to January 3. Please note those offices will be closed on January 1st. For more information, or to find out where your closest Ontario Works office is located, please click here."

If the media and the public don't know that the government is using foodbanks to administer its program, its because, according to the foodbank the government is administering its own program. Rather than using the foodbank to distribute relief, or encouraging community members to donate to the local foodbank (perhaps by offering matching donations), the government wanted to do it itself. The excerpt you cited wasn't from the foodbank blog, it was from the Ontario government webpage that was linked to on the foodbank blog (I'm shocked, shocked, that a government might be somewhat liberal (no pun intended) with the truth).

What's clear from the foodbank blog is that it continued to administer its own program separately, while the government decided to hand out gift cards itself. At most, if you believe the government post, the foodbank might have helped administer the government program as well, although based on the foodbank blog it only seems to have solicited donations either for the government's program as well as its own, suggesting that they were in fact quite separate programs (I wonder if people realize they don't get a charity tax receipt if they donate money to the provincial government?).

My main qualm with the Federal response to Lac Magentic was in the PM's comment that the recourse of survivors should be to sue, presumably rail or petro companies. This is false. There was a coverup by a USA rail company. There was an employee in the USA who doctored the documents that grant the railcar right of passage. These documents specify that non-volatile blends of oil only, should transported. An American employee was either told by his boss, or took it upon himself, to fill out a false document. He should be extradited to Quebec and charged with murder. His employer suing is Neocon garbage. Dozens more people will be incinerated in Canada if we don't elect Mulcair or someone not a corporate muppet.

It's about time..Hope to hear more news of this kind.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Search this site

  • Google

    WWW
    worthwhile.typepad.com
Blog powered by Typepad