Rights advocates challenge cuts to diet fund
TheStar.com – GTA – Rights advocates challenge cuts to diet fund
March 06, 2008
Noor Javed, Staff Reporter
If you are on welfare and have MS, should you be given a diet allowance to help you meet specific dietary needs? What if you have cancer, should the same rules apply? The provincial Human Rights Commission thinks so and will be making a case for it against the province at the Human Rights Tribunal this month.
The province provides a “special diet allowance” to help people on welfare with medical conditions stay healthy, but changes to the regulations in 2005 have severely limited the ability of ill people to qualify for that extra money.
More than 100 people on the Ontario Disability Support Program, or welfare for the disabled, have complained since the province created a list of illnesses and corresponding allowances that left many medical conditions out.
“We believe there is sufficient evidence to warrant a hearing,” said Jeff Poirier, manager of communication at the commission. The HRC’s stance is that the new allowance is discriminatory.
There are 43 illnesses are on the province’s list for which allowances can be paid. Julie SauvÃ©’s disease is no longer one of them. The 36-year-old Bracebridge woman has had multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system, for five years. In SauvÃ©’s case analysis, the commission stated “the chart approach amounts to … discrimination because the claimant is denied an individualized assessment of her needs.”
Previously, the special-diet application form included diets, such as an allergy diet, or a high-calcium diet, that had been recommended by a physician after a medical assessment. SauvÃ© was advised to go on a high-protein, high-calorie diet to regain weight lost due to her illness. She received an extra $177 dollars a month to spend just on food.
“I was able to buy nutritional foods and vitamins, which helped me to be healthy,” said SauvÃ©.
But after the 2005 changes patients with cancer, MS, and fibromyalgia were denied the allowance. The province said it implemented the changes after seeing a dramatic increase in people accessing the allowance because of “certain advocacy groups encouraging people to apply for the special diet whether or not they had specific medical conditions,” said Erika Botond, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
It’s a change that has come at the expense of SauvÃ©’s quality of life.
“I now use a cane, I don’t have good balance, I am losing vision in one eye,” she said. “I can’t work anymore because I can’t be standing or walking for more than 20 minutes, then I need to rest.”
If the tribunal agrees with the HRC, the province will be forced to act, said Cindy Wilkey, a lawyer at the Income Security Advocacy Centre. “The next step could either proceed to hearing or they will try to mediate a settlement.”