Premier Kathleen Wynne: Don’t Kill ODSP to Save It
ODSP – the Ontario Disability Support Program – is set to be transformed. Premier Kathleen Wynne (contact her here) intends to impose austerity measures and wreck the structure of the program. If she has her way, the Province will quit providing ODSP and OW supports, dropping this responsibility on the municipalities. That alone is rather idiotic, but what concerns us mostly is the impact on support recipients. This is what is on the books:
A) ODSP and OW are to be rolled into one program, resulting in:
1) A net increase in the base monthly rate for OW recipients, but a net drop for ODSP recipients. I’ve heard many figures and timelines being bandied about, but to my knowledge there is no official word on a proposed schedule or dollar amount for the new base rate. All we know is that it will be lower than the current levels, which for a single recipient max out at $596 for basic needs (food, clothing, etc.). The shelter amount, so far as I know, is not going to be touched, and I gather it will remain at (again, for a single recipient) $479.
No matter what, then, folks will be living on less than the current $1075/mo, which, depending on what index you use and where you live in Ontario, is already $3000 to $5000 below the poverty line annually.
2) All ODSP recipients will be required to enrol, like OW recipients currently, in the Pathways to Employment plan. That is, they will all be required to conduct monitored job searches and enter into employer-directed training programs (with a dispensation, upon review, for the unemployable). Yes – the government intends to make disability benefits incumbent upon mandatory employment schemes. The government is forgetting that most people on ODSP actually can’t work, or can’t find decent work, or don’t have physical access to such employment as is available. Almost every ODSP recipient I know who can work pretty much already does – and that despite some pretty nasty disincentives already in place (more on which below).
Of course, the government is also forgetting that such paternalistic stipulations impinge upon personal liberty and the dignity of free choice. Compulsion is not an acceptable principle of governance, and compulsion can take many forms: not just the form of threats, but also the form of the type of bad faith that puts people already at risk at a further disadvantage by having to constantly account for, justify, and thus humiliate themselves in order to obtain the essentials. It’s a matter of basic human decency.
B) ODSP recipients who require an income supplement to cover special dietary costs will lose it.
So if you’re on ODSP, make sure you don’t have Cystic Fibrosis, Huntington’s, Muscular Dystrophy, Congestive Heart Failure, HIV/AIDS or any of the many, many conditions for which you used to get an extra $30 to $242 in the form of a special dietary allowance. This is truly unfortunate and nonsensical. The conditions covered are severe, the need is obvious, and the amounts currently on offer are small.
C) ODSP recipients who work will lose even more than they already do under the Ministry’s clawbacks.
This is the disincentive referred to above. The Ministry has always (ostensibly) wanted us to work, and to encourage us to do so, it tacks an additional $100 to our support cheques during months when we report income earnings, as recompense, I suppose, for sheer fact of having a job … but of course promptly claws back from our cheque 50% of what we earned through work! There have been many complaints that this was unfair, so the proposal is to ditch that entire structure: no more 50% clawback on all income, but no more $100 bonus either.
Instead, the government will allow recipients a ceiling of $200, below which they can keep all earnings, clear of restrictions. Above $200, there would still be a clawback, however – a 57% clawback! I won’t do the math for you (these people did: click on “Backgrounder — Earned Income Implications” and scroll to page 3), but trust me: in the end, unless you report precisely $200 a month (at which point you break even under both the current and proposed structures), you lose. It’s odd, but if you report ANY amount higher or lower than exactly $200, you will come out with LESS than you do under the current system. Bottom line: the government wants to mandate that recipients work, yet simultaneously penalize them for putting in more than 5 hours a week at minimum wage.
It’s a lose-lose-lose situation, with perhaps a fourth ‘lose’ tossed in given that there is no indication that the government will actually stand to gain by this.
Remember: this is going to be dumped on already cash-strapped municipalities: municipalities that are chasing their tails and panicking already on account of diminishing transfer payments and shrinking local tax revenues. Governmental logic: the fewer the jobs there are in a community, the poorer the community. The poorer the community, the greater the number of assistance recipients. Thus, let’s make those *communities* responsible for looking after more social assistance recipients than they possibly can, and make those recipients responsible for getting jobs that don’t exist.
It’s the ouroboros – the snake which devours its own tail. Perhaps the government really does see the poor as a nuisance, something to be dispensed with, and they’re hoping the snake will succeed at eating itself entirely, until it vanishes with a pop….