Two students are trying to eat three meals for less than $7.50 a day for almost three weeks to draw awareness to problems with the Ontario Student Assistance Program’s (OSAP) standard living allowances.
The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) is running the “Food for Thought” campaign from March 8 to 23.
According to OUSA, OSAP uses a standard living allowance of $1,045, which works out to $34.72 a day. That is meant to cover living, transportation, food and miscellaneous costs. Out of this amount, only $7.50 is allotted for food.
Students from Wilfred Laurier University, Brock University, the University of Western Ontario and Queen’s University are taking part in the campaign. Their goal is to see if they can manage to eat balanced meals in accordance with Canada’s Food Guide on $7.50 a day.
Queen’s participant Sarah Baker, Mus’10, said she heard about the study from a friend and thought it would be interesting to see if it was possible to eat on $7.50 a day. She said it’s been difficult to eat according to the Canada Food Guide with such a low budget.
“Monday was the first day I managed to fulfill all my food group requirements, and even then I was a dollar over budget,” she said.
Baker said she usually has a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and receives free dinner at the Lazy Scholar where she works.
Baker said she usually spends about $9 a day on food. The OSAP figures given aren’t adequate enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle, she added.
She said the study has also had some unexpected positive results.
“Because of this study I’m going to be more aware of what I’m eating,” she said. “I’m also going to keep shopping at Food Basics, which is far cheaper than Loblaws.” OSAP recipient Mia Clarkson, ArtSci ’12, said she normally spends $50 a week on groceries. She doesn’t think she could be restricted to $7.50 per day to spend on healthy food because fresh produce is expensive, she said.
Clarkson said the campaign is an important way to shed light on the issues of higher learning affordability.
“I’m happy with the amount I’m receiving, but I’m not going home for Easter because I can’t afford to,” Clarkson said, adding that she thinks the maximum amount OSAP provides should be increased because student poverty has become normalized.
OUSA president Dan Moulton said he hopes the campaign will draw attention to the problems with OSAP, which under-assesses the needs of students to live adequately.
“Basically, students are being told to live below the poverty line,” he said.
OUSA Executive Director Alexi White said that the amount of money OSAP allots to basic living expenses adds up to being almost $3,000 below the poverty level of Canadian cities. According to Stats Canada, he said, the low income cut off in 2008 for independent persons in cities with a population over 100,000 was $15,538 a year. Students on OSAP receive on average $12,540 a year, he added.
Moulton said he hopes the campaign will force the provincial government to change the standard living allowance figures to become more realistic.
The campaign has been successful in representing various demographics across Ontario, he said, adding that he’s heard OSAP’s board will be reassessing their figures and releasing new ones in the next two weeks.
“The institutionalization of student poverty by the government is unconscionable,” he said. “It is their responsibility to ensure the accessibility and affordability of post-secondary education. It’s become very difficult for students to afford the cost of higher education.”
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