For years, advocates have been calling on the Ontario government to take real action on social assistance reform.
The Ontario budget is currently in the pre-consultation phase. This will be the last fully implementable budget before the 2018 election.
That is why, according to the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC), “now is the time to take action on inadequate social assistance incomes and counter-productive program rules.”
ISAC has produced a typically excellent, detailed report that echoes the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition’s recent call for government to invest $1 billion in social assistance rates and rule changes.
You can read the report at http://incomesecurity.org/publications/provincial-budgets/Ontario-Budget-2017-ISAC-pre-budget-submission.pdf
Those Stupid Rules
Many readers will remember Deb Matthews 2004 report on social assistance. Twelve years ago Ms. Matthews said that the system was relying “far too much on sanctions and prohibitions as its guiding principles.” The term “stupid rules” was applied to the 800 plus regulations and rules that were part of the social assistance system in Ontario.
A lot of those stupid rules are still in place. The ISAC report suggests some changes. We’ve done a short summary below.
Please make community members aware of ISAC’s report. It is in the form of a submission to the pre-budget consultations. Consider contacting any of Minister Jaczek, Finance Minister Sousa, the Standing Committee on Finance and/or your own MPP to support improvements for those of us who rely on OW and ODSP.
ISAC has more information and a template letter at http://incomesecurity.org/policy-advocacy/1-billion-for-ow-odsp-isacs-2017-pre-budget-submission-1-milliard-de-dollars-pour-ot-le-posph-soumission-prebudgetaire-2017-du-casr/
Some Recommended Changes to “Stupid” Social Assistance Rules*
|Stupid Rule||Current Situation||Change Called for|
|Spouse in the House||People on OW/ODSP treated differently from others.||Change the definition of “spouse” in OW and ODSP to align with family law.|
|Double Disabled Cap||Penalizes 2 disabled people who would like to become partners.||Eliminate the ODSP “double-disabled cap.|
|Earnings are treated as a disincentive to work.
|In both OW and ODSP, income from all sources is usually deducted from the amount of benefits a person or family would otherwise receive. Benefits from Employment Insurance (Regular and Sickness) and CPP-Disability are currently deducted dollar-for-dollar.||
-Income exemptions should help reduce poverty. Treat EI and CPP-D benefits like earned income in OW and ODSP.
-Increase the flat-rate earned income exemption in ODSP from $200 to $500.
|People with disabilities have additional costs to travel to medical appointments/ treatments that are not covered.||A Divisional Court recently ruled that ODSP recipients are entitled to the cost of both owning and operating a car.||Increase the ODSP medical transportation mileage rate to cover real costs from the current 18 cents
to at least 40¢ per kilometre.
|People with disabilities on ODSP living in board and lodging situations are treated differently than others.||Boarders and lodgers currently get up to $260 per month less than those who are “renters” or who live in homes that they own.||The “board and lodging” category should be eliminated so that everyone with a disability on ODSP is given access to the same benefit amounts.
|Adults on OW are only eligible for emergency dental care or care that supports getting to work, with no provisions for regular, basic dental services.||Care is provided on a discretionary basis. While limited exam and x-rays, filling and extractions are the best treatments available, a very typical response to dental pain for people on OW is dental extractions.||Create an extended medical benefit for all low-income Ontarians. Immediately, give people on OW at least the same dental coverage provided to adults on ODSP.
|People are punished for borrowing small amounts to help make ends meet.||OW/ODSP recipients borrowing small amounts see the loan treated as income and deducted 100% from benefits.||Such borrowing should not be treated as income and deducted from benefits.
|People can’t save.||In 2013, the government increased the amount of “liquid assets” allowed saying the asset limit increase was “an initial step” towards aligning asset limits in OW and ODSP.||Increase the liquid asset limits as promised in 2013.
*Adapted from ISAC Report Pre-Budget Submission on Social Assistance in Ontario to the Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs and the Ontario Minister of Finance, December 2016