Yesterday, on Thursday, November 22nd, the Government of Ontario announced its plans to reform Ontario’s social assistance programs.
Click here to view the press conference.
Click here to read the official news release.
While a number of changes to the existing programs were announced, significant details are yet to be determined, making it difficult to know how these reforms will ultimately impact recipients and those we serve.
We have summarized what was announced below, as well as added some context (where applicable) based on what we know so far. We have also included the statement that we will be releasing today on our social media pages under the red heading.
New Definition of ‘Disability’
- The Government of Ontario will be redefining ‘disability’ to align with federal guidelines, though it is not yet clear what that definition will be
- Those currently receiving benefits under ODSP will be ‘grandfathered’ into the new program and not required to qualify under the new definition of disability. The medical review process for those already on the system will also be grandfathered.
- Context: Ottawa does not have a single definition for what constitutes a disability, but the most common federal definition applies to Canada Pension Plan Disability. If the Government of Ontario aligns with this definition it could mean that significantly fewer applicants will be eligible for this benefit.
More Authority Given to Municipalities
- Decision making authority will be transferred to the municipalities so that they may tailor benefits to meet local needs. This change will be rolled-out across the province over the next 18 months and include several employment-related pilot projects.
Focus on Wrap-Around Services
- Caseworkers will provide applicants with more individualized plans for returning to the workforce, including training, job placement, mental health and addictions support, child care, housing, or help with life skills.
Changes to the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)
- Eligibility will now be reviewed annually, instead of monthly
- ODSP recipients will be able to earn up to $6,000 annually without deductions, after which their benefits will be reduced by 75 cents on every additional dollar made.
- Context: Current ODSP receipts can only make up to $200 per month ($2,400 per year) without deductions, after which their benefits are reduced by 50 cents for every dollar earned. While the increase to $6,000 per year is a positive change, recipients now lose significantly more once that limit is reached.
Ontario Works (OW)
- Caseworkers will work with OW recipients to help them find meaningful employment, there will also be additional financial incentives available to those that find work, although the details of these incentives have not yet been shared.
- OW recipients will be able to earn up to $300 per month without deductions, after which their benefits will be reduced by 75 cents on every additional dollar made
- As announced earlier this year, individuals that earn less than $30,000 per year will not be required to pay income tax
- Context: Similar to ODSP recipients, OW recipients can currently make up to $200 per month without deductions, after which their benefits are reduced by 50 cents for every dollar earned. While the increase to $300 per month is a step in the right direction, recipients now lose significantly more once that limit is reached.
What Was Not Included:
- No increases were announced to either program, which means that the support provided by OW and ODSP still falls short of providing individuals with a sufficient income to meet their basic needs (a single person on OW receives: $733 per month; ODSP receives $1,169 per month)
- Significant details are missing regarding: the roll-out of the reforms and the transition period, how costs will be managed between the province and the municipalities, and what financial incentives will be available to those that find work and how these will impact their support.
- No mention of First Nations communities, who are disproportionately affected by poverty
What the OAFB will be Monitoring:
We do not yet know how these reforms will impact program recipients or those accessing our food banks, but it is something the OAFB will be actively monitoring as the reforms are rolled-out across the province over the next 18 months.
In particular, we will be paying special attention to: the number of people accessing our services (increase vs. decrease), the number of visits to food banks (increase vs. decrease), the number of ODSP and OW recipients accessing food banks and if there are significant shifts in these demographics (currently: 30% of Ontario’s food bank visitors are ODSP recipients, and 29% are on OW).
The OAFB strongly encourages its members to monitor this data as well. To access our recent webinar on how to run reports in Link2Feed, please click here.
OAFB Statement on Ontario’s Social Assistance Reform
Almost 70 percent of the individuals that access Ontario’s food banks rely on social assistance as their primary source of income. This immediately tells us that Ontario’s current system is not working. The Ontario Association of Food Banks commends the Government of Ontario for taking a proactive look at how to improve the income support programs that impact so many of Ontario’s most vulnerable people.
The OAFB was pleased to see increases to the amount of income that social assistance recipients are able to retain from employment, a focus on wrap-around services, and an individualized and localized approach to providing recipients with support. While these changes provide a foundation to build upon, the OAFB is very concerned that the Government of Ontario did not provide details on how support will be affected during the roll-out period, as well as how redefining ‘disability’ may affect recipients moving forward.
Further, the OAFB is disappointed that there were no increases to social assistance rates announced, as the current income provided falls significantly short of what individuals require to afford even their most basic needs.
The Ontario Association of Food Banks strongly encourages the Government of Ontario to increase social assistance rates to reflect today’s cost of living, alongside the structural improvements it is planning to make to Ontario’s social assistance programs.
Additional information on the Announcement
For further information on the announcement, we recommend the following articles: