Ontario to allow people on social assistance to keep part of emergency benefits

Posted on April 21, 2020 in Social Security Delivery System

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TheStar.com – News/GTA

Ontarians on social assistance who have lost their jobs due toCOVID-19 will be allowed to keep a portion of federal income support being offered to most other Canadian workers struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.

“These are unprecedented, and uncertain times, especially for individuals receiving social assistance,” Todd Smith, provincial minister for children, families and social assistance, said in an email to the Star on Monday.

“Following a productive conversation with federal Minister (Carla) Qualtrough on Friday, our government provided new direction to Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) staff to ensure individuals on social assistance keep much more of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) than they would have under current rules,” he said.

Ontario and other provinces typically deduct most federal benefits such as EI and CPP-Disability dollar-for-dollar from social assistance.

Qualtrough, federal minister for employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, urged all provinces April 13 to exempt CERB payments from social assistance clawbacks “to ensure vulnerable Canadians do not fall behind.”

Smith met Ottawa “halfway” by treating the $2,000 monthly CERB as earned income, which allows people to keep a portion of their earnings, said a government official, speaking on background.

It means people on social assistance who are eligible for the emergency federal cash will be allowed to keep $1,100 on top of their regular monthly provincial benefits of up to $733 for a single person on OW and up to $1,169 for an individual on ODSP.

They will also be able to continue to receive health and other benefits, and no one will be kicked out of the system for exceeding income thresholds, Smith added.

On April 7, a coalition of more than 130 health care and anti-poverty groups released an open letter asking Minister Todd Smith not to claw back CERB payments and to boost social assistance benefits during the health crisis that is impacting lowest-income Canadians the most.

More than 960,000 Ontarians rely on social assistance, but only about 75,000 report earned income, according to provincial data.

Ottawa began issuing CERB payments April 6 for workers who lost their jobs or are earning less than $1,000 a month due to the pandemic and have earned at least $5,000 in the past 12 months. Payments are expected to continue for four months.

By clawing back a portion of the CERB for people on social assistance, Ontario will be able to invest that money “immediately” into programs to help others on OW and ODSP who are not eligible for the federal cash “and may need additional support during these difficult times,” Smith said.

The clawback is estimated to be worth about $30 million a month, according to a provincial government official.

Karen Andrews, a Sault Ste. Marie mother whose 27-year-old son was kicked off ODSP last week when he reported $2,000 in CERB payments, was pleased with Ontario’s decision.

“He’ll be getting a little more than what he usually received when he was working,” said Andrews, whose son’s ODSP benefits were reinstated Monday. “But most importantly, he won’t lose his drug card.”

Toronto social policy expert John Stapleton, who has criticized the province for providing no direction to caseworkers on how to treat CERB payments, said Monday’s decision is “a step in the right direction.”

“Although I would like to have seen no clawbacks, the province is going a long way,” he said. “And any clawbacks they do make will be plowed right back into social assistance to help others.”

Ontario is currently providing a one-time emergency assistance payment of $100 for singles and $200 for families on social assistance who aren’t eligible for the CERB and who request help.

Kyle Vose, co-chair of the ODSP Action Coalition, said Smith’s decision “is going to help a lot of people who were working on ODSP.”

“Our concern still is for those who have no ties to the workforce,” he said. “They are still going to be left behind if they can’t apply for this benefit.”

To date, B.C. is the only province that is following the federal recommendation to allow people to keep CERB payments without having social assistance clawed back. A spokesperson for Qualtrough said the government’s position on the matter has not changed.


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