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Ontario gave parents more than $1 billion in cash in two years. Here's where the money went

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During the pandemic, the Ontario government began paying parents money to offset the costs of home schooling during school closures.

Prime Minister Doug Ford later offered several versions of this program over the years, offering parents hundreds of dollars for tutoring to help their children “catch up” in school.

But since 2020, hundreds of parents have complained that they do not have access to these resources.

During the first three phases of the program, over three million applications were received, resulting in payments of over $1.1 billion.

Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows where the money from these first three programs went.

The Prime Minister announced the first program – Support for Families – in 2020, offering direct deposits of $200 per child aged 12 and under, or $250 for dependents with special needs under 21.

Just over 2,600 parents applied for this program, with total funding amounting to approximately $548,300.

The largest number of applicants were in the Sault Ste. Marie region, where parents were paid approximately $14,600 in cash.

Areas in Brampton, Toronto and Milton were among the five regions that received the highest payouts. This could be influenced by the population density and number of children in each region.

The second round of payments – under the Support for Learners programme – covered applications between November 2020 and February 2021.

This time, more than 1.1 million parents applied, costing the government more than $228 million.

Parents in Milton received the most money, with over $2.6 million, followed by parents in Brampton and Mississauga.

When the third round of parental payments was offered, parents knew how to make the most of their money. More than 2.1 million parents applied for the payments, costing the government more than $8.8 million.

Ontario's COVID-19 child benefit also offered parents a little more money – about $400 per child and up to $500 per child with special needs.

The areas with the most applications and therefore the highest amount of money were again Milton, Brampton, Mississauga and Barrie.

Government officials say the total number of applications rose to 5.9 million in the fourth round of payments, which ran between October 2022 and March 2023. About $1.6 billion in cash was paid out to parents under all four programs.

Postal codes are not used as an identification feature for payments

It is important to note that the data submitted to CTV News Toronto is incomplete. There were 468 entries that contained postal codes that did not exist in Ontario.

These entries represent over $3 million for the first three programs.

Government officials said zip codes are not used as an identifier on the application and are only verified if a parent requests payment by mail rather than by bank transfer.

Instead, they checked the child's school number with the school authorities.

“The ministry used reliable data sources, including the Ontario Education Number and birth registry, to help validate applications and reduce the risk of potential fraudulent or duplicate submissions,” a Ministry of Education spokesperson said.

“For applicants who chose to send their payment by post, the correctness of the postcode was checked.”

Ontario's Ombudsman is currently investigating the premier's decision to pay the money directly to parents. He said he had received around 200 complaints from parents who were denied payment because “someone else requested the money first.”

According to the Ombudsman, some parents learned that a relative who was not caring for a child had claimed the money and there was no way to get it back.

“We have heard disturbing reports from parents who have not only been denied funding for the children in their care – they have also not been told who was receiving the payments,” Ombudsman Paul Dube said in a statement. “People have been complaining to us about this issue and the latest version is unlikely to be the last.”

The Department of Education said the postcode discrepancies had no impact on these complaints as they were not used to determine the payee.

In the online application, parents are asked to provide the name of their child's school, date of birth and preferred payment method.

The government website states that only one parent or guardian can apply per student.

“It is at the discretion of the child's parent or guardian as to who applies,” the website states. “We are not involved in these decisions and do not accept duplicate applications.”