IT’S TIME that Canadian cities took a hard look at some form of tax assistance to spread the burden of private welfare services more equitably over the resources of our communities.
I suggest that voluntary donations through United Appeal are no longer able to maintain the minimum welfare needs required by our cities. Evidence to support this lies in statistics. For the past four years total collections through United Appeal across Canada were 94 to 96 percent of targets that had been cut to the bone.
There has been a steady increase in the dollars collected in Canada by United Appeals in the postwar years (from $7,000,000 in 1945 to $31,000,000 in 1960). There has also been inflation, a multiplicity of new charitable organizations, and a growing need for private welfare assistance. Combined, they have made many private agencies cut back on essential services.
At the moment most of the dollars are provided by the willing horses of our society. I raised an eyebrow in disbelief when a United Appeal administrator told me in London recently that 85 percent of the money comes from 15 percent of those who give.
The existing system, which I like to call voluntary taxation, means that those who accept their responsibility pay through the nose to help those less fortunate than themselves. Those who ignore their responsibility pay little or nothing. In every city across Canada there are hundreds of families where the wife says at the front door, “Oh, my husband gives through the office,” and her husband has an answer ready for the personnel department canvasser: “My wife is active in a woman’s group and likes to give there.”
If changes are not made, there’s going to be utter chaos in the private welfare field. In some places, United giving already faces a crisis. Toronto has difficulties because its fund-raising campaign has not made its objective. The private agencies, desperately trying to maintain their services, feel they cannot spend their dollars in direct cash relief; they say this is the responsibility of government. In 1960, only 34 of 106 Canadian United campaigns made their objectives.
In London, United campaigns
have failed to meet objectives for four years. This year, some of the city’s most energetic businessmen have already started the 1961 campaign. They’re determined that it will succeed. And this year it probably will, too. Many people are beginning to worry about the damage done to essential agency services by budgets that are never quite adequate; there’s also deep concern thaï if the campaign doesn’t make its objective, London may revert to the system by which every organization) raised its own funds. That would be like jungle warfare, expensive and! punishing.
But the success or failure of this year’s campaign is not the issue. The real problem is that the community’s need for welfare services is (or soon will be) past the point oil being met by voluntary taxation.
One possibility that deserves serious study is the levy of a special! tax, supplemented by a system 08 provincial and federal grants, tn collect at least part of the financial! needs of private agencies.
How to start a row
But mention tax assistance as an answer, as 1 did recently in a speech, and there will be reaction* from both those who contribute generously and those who give little or nothing.
Most of those who give generously say they want no part of increased taxes. One lawyer told me in a variety of emphatic ways that we have already gone far enough toward a welfare state.
Those who refuse to pay what 1 call voluntary taxation were less restrained. An irate property owner railed at me for five minutes before I hung up on him. He accused me of wanting his property taxed so I wouldn’t have to give myself. The fact that my property also would be taxed seemed to escape him— and 1 avoided pouring fuel on hi* fire by telling him I’d be a lot better of! paying more taxes than by maintaining my present pattern of giving. 1 learned indirectly he’d giver a dollar to the United canvasser láát year. Later I checked city assessment roils and found his proper» to be assessed at close to $40,00Q
Of course he has a right not t* give if he wishes. But suppose, for example, that all funds to be raisel in LonCONTINUED ON PAGE 42
For the sake of argument continued from page 10
don next fall for the 28 United agencies were levied as a tax on real estate?
This year a mill on London’s tax rate will yield about $267,000. London’s United target this year probably will be close to $700,000. About 2.5 mills would raise every dollar needed. Residential property in London sells at around three times assessment. An average $14,000 suburban ranch house is assessed for
$4,600; the 2.5-mill levy is $11.50, just under a dollar a month. In 1960, some 40,000 families gave approximately $360,000, or an average of nine dollars a family (corporations gave about $250,000). Those families who gave more than nine dollars themselves are the best judges of how many thousands gave nothing.
My irate friend with $40,000 assessment would have to pay $100 more in
taxes. Is this too much for a man with a $120,000 stake in the community to pay toward the maintenance of the city’s unfortunate? 1 don’t know. I do know it’s a lot more than he contributed last year.
I’m not convinced, actually, that an effective answer lies in raising all community welfare funds by taxation. In the speech mentioned earlier I suggested that fifty percent might be raised by taxes. Control should remain in the hands of the private agencies and the volunteer citizens who give so much of their time and energy to provide these services.
The interest and enthusiasm, the effectiveness and efficiency of volunteer workers will be strengthened, I think, rather than weakened by such an arrangement. Those who this summer and fall go into the 1961 campaign would feel far more secure and be far more willing to undertake their task if they knew that some basic percentage of the needs of the agencies were already available.
It may also be possible to control the multiplicity of new organizations springing up to seek funds. How controls could be introduced, I don’t know, because there can be no restriction on the right of individuals to associate — and raise funds — for lawful purposes. But something must be undertaken before new' demands on the charitable dollar destroy the effectiveness of services already being provided. Some cities (notably Brantford and Victoria) are experimenting with Charitable Appeals Review Boards, which may control drives for funds by careful study of all appeals before it passes along its approval to the businessmen, labor organizations and governments participating.
Another reason for suggesting that a portion of the welfare funds should continue to be raised by voluntary giving is that there is in all of us a deep-seated urge to share some of our wealth with those less fortunate than ourselves.
Businessmen naturally shy away from any tax proposal. Corporations already carry a heavy burden of taxation. Like most businessmen, I instinctively oppose anything that smacks of the welfare state. Our western democracies were not made great by men cushioned against life’s hazards by baby bonuses, prepaid hospital care, old-age pensions and government subsidizing of everything from railways to farms.
Yet the way things are set up now, businessmen arc paying far more than their share in dollars (through company and personal donations) and they are also paying millions of dollars in the time of key executives who spend weeks every year trying to bludgeon United Appeal and Community Chest dollars out of the rest of the population. If executives stayed in their offices and applied themselves to their company business and let the tax collector do the job. I’ll bet they’d make more than enough money to pay the company’s additional tax bill. And, if their personal giving happens to be generous, they’d save money, too.
Oddly enough, tax assistance to private agencies usually is looked upon as a socialistic proposal by people who do not realize it exists in a surprisingly large number of agencies.
Hospitals operated by religious orders receive substantial grants per bed from provincial and federal governments and it is an unusual municipal council that does not make a substantial grant to assist such hospitals in new construction. The Children’s Aid Society, in Ontario at least, receives municipal and provincial per diem grants. The Salvation Army and other privately operated missions and hospitals that care for unmarried mothers and the down-and-out receive per bed grants as well as operating grants.
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the London Day Nursery, the Victorian Order of Nurses and other agencies are given grants from London’s municipal council. One agency may receive $1,000. another $2,000. Why? Is the need of one greater than the other, or is one president a more skilful advocate than another? The absence of any apparent basis for making grants (other than keeping them to a minimum) is as difficult to explain as the basis for the charitable giving that keeps the whole
Canadian welfare structure in operation.
London’s Family Service Bureau has never had, to my knowledge, a municipal grant. It was suggested once or twice when I was president that we might try for one but I honestly couldn’t think of a good reason for suddenly seeking one. We did obtain a grant in trust, however, from the federal government. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration is attempting to establish young reserve Indians in cities and asked the bureau to supervise the funds offered to help these young people get a new start. The bureau was glad to try to help, with or without the grant. It illustrates, however, the complexity of channels through which welfare assistance is now distributed.
Lack of uniformity also extends to the numerous agencies concerned with specific diseases. For example, a friend of mine has a son partly crippled with polio. Information and assistance is provided in generous measure through the Ontario Society for Crippled Children (which receives grants for treatment centres). The boy receives the best of hospital care, special braces, shoes and exercising equipment and the finest physiotherapy— and rightly so. Yet another friend has a daughter with cystic fibrosis, a relatively unknown disease that is almost always fatal and requires massive quantities of expensive drugs and special breathing equipment. The cost appears to be át least as great as for the average polio victim. There is a Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to which parents can go for information and help. What help is available? The drug companies, generously accepting a form of voluntary taxation, provide drugs at cost.
It may be that both these parents deserve help from the community. Or it may be that neither should be given assistance. After all, they choose to marry and bring children into the world. Why shouldn’t they look after them?
Such an argument can be applied to the work of almost any private agency. This is the ultimate in free enterprise uncontrolled; let every man stand or fall on his own merits and ability to survive.
Is this what Canadian cities really want? Shall we close up the Salvation Army soup kitchens and let the destitute knock on our doors for food? Instead of a Red Cross transfusion service, would it be less troublesome to let those who can’t pay $25 a pint for blood die quietly?
You and I know these things will never come to pass in our Western democracies, as we know them today. A little more than a century ago, boys were hanged for stealing bread, and men who could not provide food for their families sometimes watched them starve. We no longer allow indigent widows to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, as was the case not far from London in 1816. Nor are we prepared to throw into debtors' prison those who fail to pay their bills—though at times some of us must be tempted.
Our attitude has changed radically in a century. For good or ill, we have developed a vast complex of welfare agencies to help individuals we believe need help. In our hearts we know we cannot let these organizations fail; at the same time we are making them ineffective by giving them always just a little less than they really need. And the gap is widening, not closing.
If you are prepared to assume that existing welfare services are needed, have no doubt that every penny of good is squeezed out of your charity dollar. I used to wonder whether the money was wisely spent. I have no doubts now. No corporation comptroller ever fine-combed department budgets more thoroughly than the budget committees that went over the
spending plans of our welfare agency.
Their very effectiveness brings up the spectre of government control of private agencies, if some kind of tax assistance ever develops. Many thoughtful people see disadvantages in the administration of complex welfare situations through government organizations, including the traditional attitude of civil servants bound in red tape and inflexible rules.
But undesirable—if they are so—government controls do not necessarily follow. The private agencies that now receive government grants are certainly
far from being under government control.
Elected representatives must be assured there are effective controls over the manner in which money is used, but such controls do not now and need not extend to all private agencies being taken over by an administrative branch of government. My relatively small experience suggests that private agencies are quite capable of resisting domination by anybody.
So the situation as I see it is that the private agencies are on the horns of a dilemma: they cannot return to the jungle warfare of separate campaigns because
the community will not allow it, but United Appeals are not providing even minimum operating funds.
Somehow, somewhere, men of good will in each community will have to sit down with elected representatives at the three levels of government and hammer out a solution to the problem.
There will be many trials and many errors. I believe that eventually the answer reached will include raising at least a percentage of the required funds through taxation, for distribution through existing agency machinery. ^
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