Ontario tells social assistance caseworkers to reinstate benefits to those who lost them after receiving emergency relief payments

Posted on April 18, 2020 in Social Security Delivery System

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TheStar.com – GTA

Ontario’s indecision over how to treat federal income support for workers on social assistance during the COVID-19 crisis has caused at least one person with disabilities to lose his benefits, including drug and medical coverage, the Star has learned.

“We’ve been warning the government this would happen,” said Kyle Vose, co-chair of the ODSP Action Coalition which advocates on behalf of people receiving Ontario Disability Support Program benefits.

“That’s why we issued our open letter April 7, urging Ontario to exempt CERB benefits from social assistance,” he said Saturday.

Sault Ste. Marie mother Karen Andrews said she was “shocked” this month when her son was told by his ODSP worker that his benefits were being suspended because he received the $2,000 Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB).

“Doug Ford keeps saying nobody will be left behind,” said Andrews, whose 27-year-old son has been receiving ODSP benefits for almost a decade due to a debilitating chronic pain condition that prevents him from working full time.

“What about people with disabilities?” she said in a phone interview.

Andrews asked that her son’s name not be published because his employer doesn’t know about his disability or that he receives ODSP.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s children, community and social services ministry said the government does not comment on individual cases.

But as reported by the Star on April 16, the ministry directed all social assistance staff not to record CERB payments in the province’s computerized benefits system until further notice, so that “no individuals will have their social assistance and related health benefits impacted,” said Palmer Lockridge.

“In the event that an individual had their CERB benefits entered prior to this direction, the ministry will work with the caseworker to ensure their health benefits are reinstated,” Lockridge said in an email Saturday.

British Columbia announced April 2 it would be exempting EI and CERB benefits for three months for people on social assistance who had lost jobs due to the pandemic. For others, the province said it would be increasing social assistance benefits by $300 a month.

On April 13, Carla Qualtrough, the federal minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, urged all provinces not to claw back CERB benefits “to ensure vulnerable Canadians do not fall behind.”

Ontario has yet to say how it will treat the CERB. But Lockridge said Minister Todd Smith “had a productive discussion” with Qualtrough on Friday and will be providing more information “in the coming days.”

Andrews’ son typically receives a monthly ODSP benefit of $1,169, which is reduced by a percentage of his earnings, leaving him a monthly total of between $1,850 and $2,000.

He lost his part-time job on March 14 and was told by his ODSP caseworker that he had to apply for EI to remain eligible for provincial benefits, Andrews said.

He applied in late March, just before Ottawa rolled pandemic-related EI applications into the CERB. The new temporary benefit provides $2,000 a month to anyone whose earnings have dropped below $1,000 a month and who made at least $5,000 in the past year. Benefits are expected to continue for four months.

Andrews’ son received his CERB payment on April 6 and reported the income — as required — to his ODSP worker. He was “dumbfounded” when the worker told him his benefits were being put “on hold” due to an overpayment of $800 and that he no longer qualified for drug and medical coverage, she said.

“His medication costs $750 every other month and they are telling him he now has the money to pay for his own drugs,” Andrews said.

“Not only do I find this treatment unfair, but without warning as well,” she said. “He doesn’t know how he is going to get his drugs and pay all his bills next month. I certainly hope they get this ironed out.”


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