Sunday, March 14, 2010

OSAP and the Toronto Star

The Toronto Star ran an interesting article about how it is difficult for students to eat on the budget they are given, which is no surprise, considering all the jokes within pop culture about surviving on Kraft Dinner and frozen pizza. The purpose appeared to be to raise awareness that OSAP (student loan) rates are very low, however many people were unsympathetic, and wrote letters to the Star about how students do not deserve more money and they need to either figure out how to live on that income, or get a job. I am not going to go into too much detail about them, but check the links if you would like to see the stories. I wrote a letter to the Star about it, and I am copying it here, so it gets read whether or not it is published...

I am a student and a single mother with two children and I would like to discuss my experiences with OSAP. One writer said that OSAP's allowance does not go towards housing, but this is not true. If you are a student who lives with your parents, you generally do not qualify for OSAP. People on OSAP do have to pay for housing, tuition, and books, which leaves students with $6,500 per year, at best, to pay for rent and food.

When I left Ontario Works to go back to school, I had about $50 a month more to live on, so I assumed it would be easy. Then I realized that I lost most of my health and discretionary benefits that I received with Ontario Works, as well as my special diet allowance (my son is allergic to wheat and dairy, and is quite expensive to feed). I have also had to pay for childcare out of my own pocket for two required courses that are only offered in the evening as I could not get a licensed childcare space after 5:30. Ontario Works would have paid extra for my son's allergy and asthma medication, my daughter's glasses, and evening childcare; OSAP did not.

I am offended by the comment that one particular reader is "astounded that intelligent students struggle to feed themselves on $7.50 per day." Unexpected expenses come up all the time, especially if you have children. For example, my daughter just brought home her school and daycare running shoes as she has outgrown them. If the local second hand clothing store is not currently carrying her size, I will have to spend money allotted to several days worth of food on shoes.

Also, the foods that I can afford on what is left of that $7 per day may not be very nutritional. With a few extra dollars I would be able to get whole grain (and gluten-free) wheat products, high protein foods, and a rich assortment of fruits and vegetables that my children's bodies and brains need in order to grow to their fullest potential.

The universities themselves do not make things any easier either, with meals costing a minimum of $8 for a small sandwich or $6 for a slice of pizza with a beverage at my school and water in a vending machine costing $1.75. I have to be sure to come prepared every day because I often cannot afford to purchase water; coffee is actually cheaper at the on-campus Tim Hortons.

One reader said that "students should be grateful that they get money to begin with, and if it's not enough, get a part time job." OSAP is a loan; we do have to pay most, if not all, of this money back. When we, as a country, have some of the highest tuition rates in the developed world and women need to earn a post-secondary degree to earn the same income as men without a high school diploma, pardon me if I do not feel entirely grateful. As for the comment to get a job- I have two children and a part-time job as well as a full-time courseload including a thesis and a placement. For my teaching assistantship, I work only 5 hours a week and feel guilty about the time this takes away from my children. You can look at my schedule and tell me where to pen in that part-time job, as well as how to pay for the childcare expenses while I am at work, because they will not be covered by OSAP.

Food is not a luxury. We should not be expected to live on rice and plain pasta or cucumber sandwiches. Food and proper nutrition should be a right that all Canadians are entitled to.


  1. About the 'get a job' comment.. I have 2 jobs. And I have to report to OSAP how much I make at these jobs, and OSAP simply deducts it from my loan. I get no extra money by having 2 parttime jobs and working all summer than if I just lived completely on OSAP. Unless your part-time jobs can get you more money then OSAP would have given you, all a part-time job does is give you less debt in the end.

  2. I'm not allowed to work for more than 10 hours a week as part of my program. Where oh where should I get the extra money to pay for things like my husband's life-saving medication?

    The base assumptions in education are that everyone is a "healthy" "young" person who can share housing with others to cut costs and should just live off of rice for three meals a day.

    We can't do that. And the government of Nova Scotia is punishing us for it by saying I should go further in debt so my husband doesn't die.

  3. Anna, it is terrible that something like this can happen in such a 'rich' country.

    We have the same rules for working 10 hours a week in graduate programs at my school, undergrad is mostly unregulated.... and we do have something called the Trillium Foundation that can pay for medications, although there are many limits to what it will cover.

    I find it very sad that we live in a country where we pretend that everyone has access to the medical care they need, yet there are no programs in place to ensure that people do not die because they cannot access medication.

    I have read studies about the cost of education in Nova Scotia specifically... until recently they had the highest tuition rates in Canada and some of the lowest funding amounts, although Ontario has now surpassed Nova Scotia for high tuition. If you haven't gone public with your story, it might be worth it to raise awareness and possibly find some kind of extra funding.

  4. Do you actually want people to read your blog? Because dark orange on black renders the text pretty much unreadable to me. (Here via Feministe's Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday.)

    The easiest way to make sure the most people can read your text is to have it dark on light. Light on dark is less readable for most people.

  5. Honestly, as horrible as it sounds, I just don't have time for that fight.

  6. Yonmei, I will take that into consideration, thank you... It is easy to read for me on my computer screen so I hadn't considered that it might be more difficult for others.

  7. Anna, that is completely understandable, but if you ever decide to try it let me know. I would love to be involved, whether it be a facebook group to raise awareness, petitions, or writing politicians. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

  8. OSAP should maybe start making changes to get even with the times. There may be too many cracks where students such as yourself are slipping too easily through. Granted, OSAP does fill a need for many students but it needs to be what it was originally set up to be - helping as many Canadians finance their college education fairly. It's not broad enough right now.

  9. Thanks. I always appreciate support and positive comments... and you are right, many students do fall through the cracks. Even those that make it through school can find themselves with too much debt to pay back after graduation.

  10. I GET this topic to long time. I’ll add Favorites your site to read again .

  11. I totally agree with you. I'm currently a student and I have to get a part-time school year job to fund my education. I have nothing against working while in school since I've had a job since I was 15 years old. The only problem with going on OSAP is that your income is so closely scrutinized that you can't afford to work more than mere pocket change hours at work. Luckily, I found a waitressing gig that I hope to get cash tips from, and which I won't claim. So that basically, I am able to afford what I need and want. I feel guilty about it because I am made to cover up my own tracks as though I am some criminal yet I'm just a struggling student that that is trying to survive. Btw, I am estranged from my parents so its not like I have any family support there.