Dental program for low-income families denied

Program would have offered dental work to 35-40 Kingstonians on welfare to aid in finding employment

The program aimed to help job hunters with bad teeth who face difficulty finding employment, Councillor Rick Downes said.
The program aimed to help job hunters with bad teeth who face difficulty finding employment, Councillor Rick Downes said.
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At a City Council meeting on Tuesday, 29-year-old mother of two Chantelle Robinson told councillors she believes the only thing stopping her from getting a job is her bad teeth.

Robinson presented her case to City Council on Tuesday before a motion to fund $100,000 worth of dental coverage for low income Kingston residents was lost to a tie vote of 6-6.

The proposed funding was stated to be enough to provide 35-40 Kingston residents on welfare with dental work in an attempt to help them enter the workforce. The funding would have come from the City’s $180 to 190 million reserve funds.

“When you go into a job interview and you’ve got bad teeth, people won’t hire you,” Rick Downes, city councillor for the Cataraqui District, said. “They’ll sort out an excuse, but they won’t hire you. You’re the face of the company to the public.”

Downes proposed the motion to City Council after meeting in April with the Kingston Dental Coalition (KDC), a community group that aims to provide dental coverage for low-income residents. He said the City has used discretionary funds in the past to support local business development.

Earlier this year, Kingston’s Hockey Hall of Fame was given about $200,000 from property tax dollars to fund the relocation of the museum, Downes said.

“Property tax dollars were used for that and other projects that came before this idea,” he said. “What we wanted to do is to define and look at the people whose only problem is getting work because of their teeth.”

The proposal was meant to replace a similar 2009 program that had been slashed after the provincial government drew back on municipal funding, Downes said. There are currently no plans to bring the issue back to Council, he added. There are an estimated 5,000 Kingston residents who can’t afford to have their teeth replaced, according to the KDC website.

The program would have had positive economic impacts on the city, Downes added.

“If we want a good local economy we need to get people into the workforce and get people out of welfare,” he said.

Opposing councillors argued that the program wasn’t under the direct purview of the City, but was the responsibility of the province, Downes said.

Some councillors also argued that the program would affect a minimal amount of people  

This isn’t something that should have deterred it from being passed at Council, according to Colleen Davison, an adjunct professor in global development studies.

“If they’re saying it’s not a good investment because only 40 or so people are using it, I would question that rationale,” she said. “You can’t judge a policy decision based on the number of people that it impacts ... our value system as a community shouldn’t be exhibited in that way.”

She added that dental health should be considered just as important as a serious health issue.

“It calls into question about whether or not we think dental problems are serious health issues that we need to intervene on,” she said. “These dental problems that continue can certainly influence their ability to work and go

to school.”

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