The Honourable Helena Jaczek, Minister of Community and Social Services; Gord Brown, M.P.

I would like to call your attention to the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) that is hindering the financial well-being on Ontario’s 448, 515 beneficiaries (stat taken from the government’s own website at http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/reports/ODSP_EN_2014-09.pdf) as of September 2014.

I, like many other Ontarians on ODSP, find it extremely difficult to support my family with the necessary essentials of life during certain months of the year. The rules governing working income while receiving social assistance forces recipients into make a critical decision -- to either due without one month, or make alternate arrangements to purchasing food, paying heat/hydro or the mortgage/rent.

Under current rules, monies like Employment Insurance (E.I.) are withdrawn from the current month’s ODSP cheque, whereas any employment income is withdrawn from the following month’s cheque. My spouse, for example, works 10 months of the year. Every June she will receive 2 paycheques from work. At the end of her annual contract, she is required to collect E.I. which she starts receiving in July.

Our July’s ODSP cheque is much too small to live on. This month alone will include a deduction of her June’s employment income and a dollar-for-dollar amount for what she collected in July from E.I. Unlike those who don’t want an overpayment every month, we are forced to accept 5% every month as a deduction to pay back our overpayment balance. Recently, the overpayment amount was increased to include the Special Diet amount that recipients receive. This being said, the overpayment balance is paid faster. However, by the time the full amount is paid back, we have to accept another overpayment for the following year. It is a continuous cycle with no-end in sight.

I do know that some recipients have to use credit cards to buy essentials like food, or have someone else buy them some to help feed their families. This is embarrassing, and neglectful on the government’s part.

My oldest son turned 18 this past November. He has had a job for 2 years now and is trying to make his way in this world by buying his first car and trying to save money. He was 17 when he graduated high school and we all talked about what would be the right course of action for him to take. Both of his parents (and he) felt that he was too young to go to college right away. He needs to mature a bit more before taking that leap. In December, however, he was considered to be another adult and we had to pay a border-charge. Expectations are there, but the reality of the amount of money coming off our ODSP cheque included being considered a family of 4 instead of 5. This reduced our monthly entitlement by approximately $70, but we had to pay an additional $100 for a border charge. My son, however, decided to move into an apartment with some friends in January. I don’t like thinking this way, but at least we get our $100 added back on to our monthly cheque.

Do you remember when the winter clothing and back-to-school allowances were taken away from all recipients? It hurt a lot of people already having financial difficulty just trying to survive. Many people are trying to give their kids something to wear to school, and to keep warm within our harsh climate. Thank God for other agencies trying to help those in need. Unfortunately, they were helping more people than what they had the year before.

Emergency home repair services were also discontinued. Ontario Works (OW) does help people under very stressful conditions. However, this puts extra load on their caseworkers. Sometimes those workers take a little longer to get back to you if you have no water coming to your house. Sometimes these repairs can be done by the homeowner themselves, but with the reduced amount of money available on their ODSP cheques it is almost better to make the call and do without that much needed item for a few days.

Speaking of home repair services, there are programs out there such as the Residential Rural Assistance Program (RRAP) that our caseworkers can direct us too. We have used this program before. Unlike many other government-assisted programs that help low-income Canadians, they consider ALL sources of income to determine eligibility. This included any working income, ODSP income, CCTB and even the GST. If all combined income exceeded $32000 for a family of 5, there was no assistance – regardless of what ill-stricken problem you were facing as a homeowner.

With the state of the economy like it is (and has been going since the 1980s), jobs are extremely difficult to find or keep. Is this depression on the employers end? Perhaps they feel with the rise of products, shipping, business taxes and the hike of minimum wages, they must make cuts to stay afloat This is not the way-of-thinking of employers 30 years ago. Sometimes employers don’t want to get involved with re-training someone coming off ODSP because they know they won’t be able to keep them around for very long anyways. Even for young kids that work in the fast-food industry such as Tim Hortons, cannot be guaranteed that their job will be there tomorrow. Jobs in larger cities like Ottawa or Toronto may be more plentiful than those residing near smaller places like Kingston or Brockville. If you’re rural, working from home becomes the best possible way to achieve any type of life that may be productive to society. Training programs, like Opportunities Funding, were there to help people become more self-sufficient in this manner. However, this is another program taken away from people who need it the most. This is forcing people to stay on ODSP as the support is not there.

Now things are not all grim. We are entitled to save money. People are entitled to save emergency funds (up to approx. $5000/year) in a Tax-free Savings Account (TFSA) which won’t affect their eligibility for ODSP benefits. The only downfall here is that people do not AND cannot accumulate enough money to put away with the rising cost of everything around them. Up to $200, 000 can be contributed to a plan holders Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) without it affecting the recipients ODSP allowance. The main benefit here is the government’s contributions at a 100-300% of grants on top of the plan holders own contributions of $1500/year. Regardless of how much this hurts a person’s monthly budget, it is still a necessary thing for them to do (if they qualify) for their families. RRSPs hurt people receiving social assistance, RDSPs and TFSAs are two very important strategies for disabled people to follow. However, there must be some changes to your lifestyle, such as reducing the size of your home. This will cut down on expenditures like heat, hydro, amount of propane, possibly property taxes if you are a homeowner.

These hard economic times are fixable. The Advocacy BC article http://advocacybc.blogspot.ca/2012/06/changes-to-bcs-income-assistancepwd.html talks about how changes were introduced after the government was forced to recognize the hardship its citizens were facing. We are not that different than British Columbia. Like B.C.’s disability assistance program, Ontario should be looking at an annual review of a benefit units income. This will allow caseworkers to better assist their clients with their employment goals, and not just focus on a person’s income. Remember – if ODSP’s caseworkers are happy doing their job, they are more productive. This will be a cause-and-affect scenario, passed on to the actual electorates in every riding in this province.

One solution is to take away the 50% employment deduction for those families with taxable income of less than $20,000 with any number of children. The Ontario Health Premium paid at income tax time uses the $20,000 threshold to determine who pays for what amount. Any taxpayer under this amount doesn’t pay. If the income is more than this, a pro-rated amount is paid to the Ontario Health Premium.

It is a constant struggle, always looking ahead to see if people are going to be in trouble paying the mortgage/rent or buying food in 3 or 4 months time. With families making more than $20,000 and the number of children involved, it is possible to pro-rate the amount to be withheld from their allowance, but on an annual basis.

There are serious and drastic changes that need to be addressed in Ontario’s social assistance delivery system. The changes mentioned here will give some dignity and hope for the future as many, many people suffer from serious health-related issues.

On behalf of ill-stricken Ontarians,
Patrick Beach

We, the undersigned, call on the Minister of Community & Social Services to change how ODSP reduces the client's monthly allowances by the preceding month's employment income and by any gov't assisted monies in the same month.

We want the income support to be reviewed annually, instead of monthly, so that caseworkers can focus more on helping people with job search strategies.

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The Change how employment income is deducted from ODSP allowances petition to The Honourable Helena Jaczek, Minister of Community and Social Services; Gord Brown, M.P. was written by Patrick Beach and is in the category Government at GoPetition.