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What You Need to Know About Ontario’s Social Assistance Reforms

December 10, 2018

It is difficult to make sense of the Ford government’s proposal to overhaul provincial social assistance. Among the many changes, one should be concerned with Ontarians being the new definition of disability, which is said to align with more narrow federal guidelines.

That will likely result in making it more difficult to qualify for disability benefits.

“Many people in this province have severe disabilities that make it very difficult to support themselves,” said Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.

“They will be met with compassion and dignity in our new system. Those receiving assistance who can work, will be treated with the same dignity, including targeted support to fill Ontario’s jobs.

“If you can work, or if you can’t, we have a plan to help you.”

With changes expected in the next 18 months, what does Ford’s rhetoric-laden plan mean for the almost one million Ontarians that rely on Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)?

If the provincial government is changing its definition of disability to reflect federal guidelines, what does Ottawa define as a disability?

The federal government has two main disability programs – the Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit (CPP-DB) and the Disability Tax Credit (DTC). The programs are different, but both are more stringent in how they define disability.

CPP-DB is for people under the age of 65 who have contributed to CPP, but are unable to work due to injury or illness. The condition must be ‘severe’ and ‘prolonged,’ preventing the person from working a regular job.

Anyone can apply for the DTC, including those collecting CPP-DB. Qualifying doesn’t depend on one’s ability to work, but their ability to perform the basic activities of daily living (BADL). The person must be markedly or significantly restricted in one or two basic daily living activities, respectively, or receiving life-sustaining therapy to qualify. The impairment must be prolonged, too, lasting or expected to last at least one year, and be present 90 per cent of the time.

Mary Marrone, Legal Director of the Income Security Advocacy Centre, a provincial legal clinic, explains how these rigid definitions will be problematic for Ontarians with disabilities:

“Many people with disabilities would be excluded, like those with episodic disabilities or some mental health disabilities, forcing them to rely on the much lower benefit amounts that Ontario Works provides,” she says.

“Reform of the system should not start with what is effectively a rate reduction for new entrants.”

MacLeod’s proposed 3% increase to social assistance was chopped in half last summer. Will that change be reverted?

Her recent announcement made no mention of any rate increases in social assistance. When asked directly by reporters if increases would come, she refused to answer.

Translation: don’t hold your breath.

The Ontario government says the number of people receiving ODSP support is growing by 3.5% a year, outpacing population growth.

While the government says this is unsustainable, we’re living in a society where medical science is extending the life expectancy of ill, injured, or disabled people, plus new disabilities like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fibromyalgia being recognized every few years.

Social policy expert John Stapleton says it should come as no surprise that more and more people are leaning on ODSP support, heightened by factors such as lower Workers Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) payments, fewer jobs with disability benefits, and inadequate CPP payments. With all of this considered, people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have nowhere else to turn.

Stay up to date on Canadian disability benefits, including everything surrounding the Disability Tax Credit program, and head over to The National Benefit Authority In the News section!