The province’s basic income pilot project and income security review are promising, but the need to increase social assistance rates is urgent.

Six hundred and fifty-six dollars. $656.

That’s the amount — per month — that the Ontario government provided in 2015 to social assistance recipients who were single and considered “able-bodied.” Add in the GST credit and the Ontario Trillium Benefit for those living on low-incomes, and the total monthly income amounted to $740, whether you lived in Toronto, Thunder Bay, Ottawa or anywhere else in the province.

It is no wonder that two-thirds of households that rely on social assistance in Ontario are food insecure — in other words, they don’t have enough money to buy the food they need for a healthy life. And food insecurity has a price. Researchers at the University of Toronto have found that health care costs among Ontario households increase dramatically as the severity of food insecurity increases. For those who are most food insecure, health care costs are 121 percent higher than they are for those who are food secure.