One of the biggest debates during this year's regional budget talks centred around discretionary benefits. Extra money that funnels through local social assistance programs that helps tens of thousands of people across Waterloo Region every year.

This year, there will be less money for those who need it most. 

Discretionary benefits are funds that help those with disabilities, housing issues and, most importantly, the benefits ensure no one goes hungry.

Services that could soon change.

This year, provincial claw backs left Waterloo Region with a five-million dollar gap in funding for discretionary benefits.

Councillors settled on allocating two-million dollars to help prop up the system... North Dumfries Mayor Rob Deutschmann says it isn't enough.

“There is a need.  We could do more, and we should, because of this 3.1 million dollar shortfall - even after the two million.”

During budget talks, Deutschmann suggested adding an extra million dollars to the system, but was voted down.

“I don't see 3.1 million coming from the community and i don't know exactly what the community can do” says Deutschmann.

Discretionary benefits provide assistance for everything from vision and hearing care to rent and food hampers. Councillors decided it was better to have social agencies work more collaboratively, rather than to pass on a bigger tax increase to everyone else.

Regional Councillor Tom Galloway says, “They believe that there's some efficiencies that can be derived and we're all hopeful that the gap can be bridged.”

One of the agencies planning for less money in the social assistance system is The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. Executive Director Wendi Campbell says they are expecting a 10-percent drop in funding across the food assistance network.

We're anticipating that there's going to be increased levels of service required in the community.”

She is hopeful that food bank programs won't be affected.

“We want to make sure that if people live in the south end of Cambridge or the north end of waterloo that they'll have access to programs, ideally, in their neighborhoods.”

Deutschmann worries about what will happen when those on Ontario works have to decide whether to pay for food or housing.

“We've just sort of punted the football down the field a little bit and we're going to have to deal with this issue sooner than we think.” Says Deutschmann

There is a proposal to re-examine the issue half way through the year.

The real test will likely come next winter, when increased demands are put on the entire social assistance network.