‘Aspirations are not going to lift people out of poverty’: Ontario disability advocates react to the federal budget

Posted on April 19, 2024 in Social Security Policy Context

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TVO.org – Politics/Affordability
Apr 17, 2024.   Written by Kat Eschner

The feds said that the Canada Disability Benefit would be “modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement.” The dollar amount it represents is far less

A lot of noise for what amounts to $200 a month for a fraction of Canada’s low-income disabled people: that was the conclusion of disability advocates this week, after the federal Liberal government unveiled the funding details of its long-awaited Canada Disability Benefit.

Unveiled as part of the 2024 budget, funding for the benefit amounts to $6.1 billion over six years, with an ongoing commitment of $1.4 billion. None of that money will reach its estimated 600,000 recipients until mid-2025, and the amount per person will be about $2,400 per year, or an additional $200 per month.

That amount “in no way resembles what they said it was going to be in the beginning,” says Trevor Manson, co-chair of the ODSP Action Coalition. In the 2020 throne speechduring which the benefit was first announced, the federal Liberals committed to “a new Canadian Disability Benefit modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors.”

The claim has been repeated numerous times in the years since, Manson says. The GIS tops up a single person who makes less than $21,624 annually by as much as $1,065.47 each month. Single ODSP recipients make far less — $15,871 in 2022, according to research from the Maytree Foundation. But their top-up via CDB would be just a few hundred dollars.

It’s more than nothing: “An extra $200 a month is welcome news,” Manson says. “But we’re still deeply disappointed.”

National advocacy group Disability Without Poverty voiced similar sentiments. “Getting the CDB approved by Parliament and now, nominally funded, are two major hurdles with much more work left to do,” said national director Rabia Khedr in a press release.

“I would have liked to have seen at least $500,” says Andrea Hatala, also a co-chair of the ODSP Action Coalition. That amount, combined with ODSP, would buy a little extra time each month before money runs out, she says: “The worst thing is being caught with no money halfway through the month and thinking, what am I going to do?”

Related: Social-assistance rates in Ontario should ‘set off alarm bells’: Report​​​​​​​

The $200 buys much less time, she says. Neither amount would be enough to raise ODSP recipients to the poverty line — a stated aim of the legislation that disability advocates invoked when expressing their disappointment.

“What poverty line did they consider in their determination?” asked Moira Wilson, president of Inclusion Canada, in a press release. “We expected more from this budget, and our hope is fading.”

Representatives of the Ford government have continually invoked the CDB while explaining why it has not added further funding to the Ontario Disability Support Benefit. There was no additional funding for ODSP or Ontario Works in the 2024 provincial budget, released on March 26.

On budget day, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy told TVO Today that his government was the first to index ODSP basic amounts to inflation on an annual basis and highlighted its decision to raise the earnings exemption to $1,000 per month from $200 per month. “Of course, there’s always more to do,” he said, although he did not offer specifics. “And we continue to look at ways to make life more affordable for people on Ontario Works.”

The province appears keen to get ODSP off its books: documents obtained by CTV News in 2023 identified that the CDB “could help mitigate costs” of the program.

But with this move, the feds have placed primary responsibility for funding disability-related social assistance firmly back in the province’s court. The budget calls out “the inadequacy of disability assistance provided by many provinces,” while saying that the federal government “aspires to see the combined amount of federal and provincial … income supports for persons with disabilities grow to the level of Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).”

Here’s the thing, says Manson: “Aspirations are not plans. Aspirations are not going to lift people out of poverty.” Both levels of government are passing the buck back and forth, and disabled Ontarians are losing out, he says.

It’s not yet clear what the province will do in response to the CDB news, and it is not obligated to keep ODSP rates as they are now, adding further uncertainty for already precarious residents.

“We’re pleased to see the federal government finally follow through on this promise, and we will work with them to ensure people in Ontario continue to get the support they need,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services told TVO Today via email. The spokesperson did not address a TVO Today question about whether the Ford government plans to change ODSP rates in response to the federal news.

Receiving the Canada Disability Benefit will also be contingent on qualifying for the federal Disability Tax Credit, something not all ODSP recipients have sought out. It’s not financially worth it for many disabled people, Hatala says, but she anticipates many more will now try to qualify so they can get the CDB — an effort that the federal budget included some funding to streamline. The Toronto Star reports that about 492,000 people currently have the appropriate certificate and that the feds plan to work to help a further 108,000 qualify.

Inclusion Canada calls the government’s use of the program to determine CDB eligibility “deeply concerning” and states that “the DTC program currently excludes many individuals who face significant barriers to qualifying, meaning many people with disabilities who are currently in poverty would not get the benefit. The government must commit to a wholesale review and reform of the DTC problem in parallel with rolling out the benefit to maximize its impact.”


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