Welfare reform plan scares Ontarians with disabilities
TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Ontarians with disabilities entreat Kathleen Wynne to rethink her welfare overhaul.
Mar 15 2013. By: Carol Goar Canada, Politics Government
Brian Dubourdie and Kyle Vose agree that Premier Kathleen Wynne is a good person who wants to do the right thing for the poor. But they dread the harm she will do to Ontarians with disabilities.
Both men receive disability support payments. Dubourdie is recovering from thyroid cancer but battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression and alcoholism (hasn’t had a drink in eight months). Vose has HIV, hepatitis B, hyperthyroidism and has been treated for multiple cancers. Neither is capable of working steadily.
Both receive a special diet allowance; Dubordie gets $102 a month, Vose gets $250.
Wynne is poised to overhaul social assistance, implementing the recommendations of a provincially commissioned panel. It called for the elimination of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and the special diet allowance.
Under the new system, there would be no distinction between disability support recipients and general welfare recipients. Under the current system, an individual receiving disability support gets $1,075 a month; an individual on general welfare gets $606 a month.
Nor would there be a special diet allowance. Individuals with “wasting diseases” (those causing loss of body mass) such as HIV/AIDS and Huntington disease, could apply to the Ministry of Health for nutritional supplements.
Dubourdie says he couldn’t live on less than he gets now. He already makes the round of the downtown food banks every night. When he comes up short, he panhandles. “If you’re hungry and you’ve spent everything you have on rent, you do what you have to do.”
Vose doesn’t know how he’d cope with a drop in income. He can’t work; his medical condition doesn’t allow it. And he has nothing to fall back on. His life savings consist of two tins of pennies, nickels and dimes.
Despite their common predicament, the two men are polar opposites. Dubourdie is an extrovert, a raconteur, a walking guide to Toronto’s sub-world of homeless shelters, soup kitchens, social agencies, food banks and drop-in centres. Vose is more deliberative. He stays within his community, thinks about public issues and co-chairs the ODSP Action Coalition.
But their motives for speaking out are identical:
They believe they are luckier — and somewhat less vulnerable — than most of the 300,000 Ontarians who receive ODSP. That entails a responsibility to take the lead. Dubourdie, who served in the navy, lives in subsidized veterans’ housing; Vose, who paid into the Canadian Pension Plan for many years, receives a monthly CPP disability benefit in addition to his ODSP payment.
They are deeply concerned about friends who would be hurt more than them if Wynne proceeded. “I watch native guys losing their fingertips and toes — sometimes up to the knee,” said Dubourdie, a community support worker in the emergency ward of St. Michael’s Hospital. He can’t remain silent while the government strips diabetes patients and expectant mothers of their dietary supplement. Vose, who volunteers at the PWA (People with AIDS) Essentials Market, a food bank run by and for the HIV/AIDS community, worries that people he knows — some in precarious health — would be forced to go back to work.
Both recognize that Wynne’s plan would make life better for those living on general welfare. They would get an immediate boost of $100 per month with incremental increases to follow. “But why does the money have to come out of our pockets?” Vose asks.
They’ll testify at Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s pre-budget consultations; join a government advisory committee if they’re asked; mobilize anti-poverty activists if they must.
But they wish Wynne would just take a moment and ask herself whether it’s right to take from the sick to give to the poor.
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