Food For Thought

The campaign saw five students from four Ontario universities attempt to eat a healthy, balanced diet while spending only $7.50 a day on food – the same amount allocated for food by the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

Participants blogged daily, in both video and written form, about their experiences attempting to live on $7.50 a day for food. The participants also described their experiences to any interested local and national media. The goal of the campaign was to show the government and the people of Ontario that the OSAP need assessment formula is broken and must be fixed. Students believe that $7.50 per day is not enough to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Moreover, the OSAP living allowance provides a total of only $34.72 per day for food, shelter, public transit, and miscellaneous expenses. Over a year, this living allowance adds up to $12,540 – about $3,000 less than the poverty line for a city of over 100,000 people and about $5,000 less than the poverty line for a city of over 500,000.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) believes that students are paying more than their fair share of their higher education, and that the Government of Ontario is placing too great a financial burden onto students. The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) was created to provide loans to help students who do not have the financial means to attend a post-secondary. The provincial government has created a needs assessment model that formulates how much students need for their education, based on what it believes to be reasonable allocations of costs associated with the pursuit of a post-secondary education.

The OSAP funding model therefore delivers its loans based on the needs assessment that the government has prescribed. OUSA’s concern is that the needs assessment formula has not been updated in many years to reflect the current cost of living for students attending a post-secondary institution, as well as a lack of reasonable expectations of students when it comes to food and miscellaneous expenses such as clothing and sundries.

The current needs assessment formula makes no distinction between different regions in Ontario and its cost of living in those places, meaning the system predicts that the cost of a student at the University of Toronto campus living in downtown Toronto, is the same as the cost of living for a student living in Thunder Bay at Lakehead University.

In regards to food expenditure, the formula allocates only $226 per month, for an average of $7.50 per day, or $2.50 per meal. Not only is that amount inaccurate and an unreasonable expectation of young adults, if a student were actually to live on those amounts, they would almost surely not be receiving proper nutrition and eating a regular balanced diet.

This is just one of the many problems with the current OSAP system. Its failures must be highlighted to the government so they will fix it.

OUSA will take on a campaign to highlight the inequities built into the needs assessment formula, and propose educated solutions towards improving it.