Fix for Ontario’s disability program is long overdue

Posted on February 22, 2016 in Social Security Delivery System – Opinion/Editorials – New system for those on disability assistance cuts back on paper work, medical tests and legal aid requirements.
Feb 22 2016.   Editorial

For people who depend on Ontario Disability Support Program cheques, life just got a lot easier. And a bit more compassionate.

As Laurie Monsebraaten reported in the Star last week, the Ontario government is taking steps to lighten the excessive administrative burden on people receiving disability payments whose cases come up for review.

Too bad it took the government a year just to come up with the new, much-needed changes. Indeed, the current system was so overly bureaucratic that there was a backlog of 60,000 cases up for review.

And too bad it follows on other missteps that have made life for those on disability allowances and welfare more challenging than it already is. For a government that prides itself on putting social justice at the centre of its agenda, it’s a less-than-stellar record.

Consider that in 2013 the government considered eliminating the disability program for 300,000 recipients and a special diet allowance that went along with it. The plan was to merge the disability program and Ontario Works, which covers those on social assistance. That raised fears among many disabled people that they might end up worse off. The proposed change understandably upset recipients before it was finally shelved.

Then, in late 2014 and early last year, it was a multi-million-dollar computer mess that saw some people not receiving their cheques and thousands of others getting overpayments. It took months of grief for recipients before the system began to work.

So it’s good news, at last, that those on disability allowances are getting some relief.

The changes will mean doctors won’t have to fill out 21-page application forms again every time a recipient’s case comes up for a simple review. Nor will they have to re-do everything from psychological assessments to x-rays to back it up.

That should provide savings in both medical tests and doctors’ time. It should also provide savings in legal aid, since so many applicants currently need help on the complicated review documents and appeals.

More importantly, the change will make it easier for those receiving disability payments to navigate their way through the system. For many, it is so fraught with anxiety that they become more ill out of fear they will be deemed ineligible and forced onto welfare.

All of this all bodes well for a fairer, less bureaucratic and less traumatic process. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s no less welcome for that.

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