Ontario welfare changes far from being reforms

Posted on January 27, 2019 in Social Security Debates

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
Jan. 27, 2019.   By

In November, the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services announced some changes to come in social services programs. There are two programs, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

Let us begin with Ontario Works. It has been said to be a program for people temporarily unable to find work. ODSP, on the other hand, is for people who are said to be in some way disabled.

The good news about the announcement is that it finally buries the lie put forward by all previous Ontario governments that Ontario Works is for those temporarily unable to find work, while Ontario Disability Support Program is for those with substantial barriers, and that the differentiation in some way reflects reality.

Thus, the press backgrounder states that 20 per cent of Ontario Works recipients are on for five years or more, and “Half of the people who leave the system return to Ontario Works, and 80 per cent of those return to Ontario Works within a year.”

So what does the government propose to do? It proposes to make it more difficult to get onto the Ontario Disability Support Program by “aligning” eligibility criteria with those of the federal government, presumably the definition for CPP-D (Canada Pension Plan-Disability).

A major distinction between eligibility for ODSP and CPP-D is that for ODSP the anticipated period of incapacity needs to be at least a year, while for CPP-D the incapacity must be prolonged, of indefinite duration, or likely to result in death. The obvious result will be that more Ontario Works recipients will be long-term. Is that the desired outcome?

The government is proposing this new direction without conducting any study to determine the nature of the 20 per cent on for over five years, nor of the substantial number of recipients who are repeaters.

The announcement also talks about work incentives. The government wants recipients of Ontario Works and ODSP to work. Curiously, it proposes substantially better financial incentives for people who are certified as disabled.

On Ontario Works, the plan is to exempt the first $300 a month of earned income before any clawback, compared to the current $200. Beyond the basic exemption, the current clawback is 50 per cent. The proposal is to make it 75 per cent. That is an incentive to work?

While the ODSP exemption is more generous — $6,000 a year — it again comes with the same punitive 75 per cent clawback.

In the Toronto Star, Laurie Monsebraaten headlined her analysis of the new direction in an articled headlined, “Making sense of Ontario’s social assistance reforms.”

She does an admirable job in laying out the details. Nevertheless, she can analyze the changes, but there is no way of making sense of them. And they are not reforms, as that word suggests improvement.

Reuel S. Amdur is a social worker living in Val-des-Monts, Que., who has worked for social planning councils in Peel, Hamilton, and Toronto.


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