Social Assistance Review: Proposed and Recent Changes to Social Assistance in Ontario
On October 24, 2012, the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario released its final report and recommendations.
In the past year since the release of the report, several of its recommendations made have been implemented, including:
- Creating a $200 monthly earning exemption for people who receive benefits from Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
- Improving financial independence for OW clients by increasing the amount of assets they are able to keep before they can get help, such as a car they may need for employment.
- Encouraging businesses to improve job opportunities for people with disabilities by establishing a Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities.1
ACT supports and commends the Government of Ontario for these positive changes to social assistance and welcomes the implementation of any recommendations that will improve the lives of people on social assistance and improve models of service delivery.
How will proposed and recent changes to social assistance affect people living with HIV/AIDS?
Many of ACT’s service users rely on ODSP or other forms of social assistance to meet their basic needs including housing, food, transportation and health care. A number of the reviews recommendations directly impact people Living with HIV/AIDS. ACT also receives funding for its employment services program (Employment ACTion) from the Ministry of Community and Social Services through ODSP, and any changes to the funding model will affect program and service delivery.
Of the 108 proposals made regarding social assistance in the review, ACT is taking a position on the following recommendations from the implementation priorities laid out in year one of the proposed provincial strategy.2 These are recommendations that may have a direct or indirect impact on ACT programs and services, and the well-being of ACT service users and members of the community.
Early Priorities identified in Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario:
- Moving forward on employment for people with disabilities
We strongly encourage the Ministry to modify the eligibility requirements for ODSP Employment Supports, so that once an individual is deemed eligible for ODSP Income Support they become automatically eligible for employment supports. This will eliminate the need for employment service agencies to get additional approvals prior to assisting these individuals to find employment.
ACT also supports the Ontario Disability Education Network (ODEN) position to streamline the approval process for people who have a disability who are not in receipt of ODSP Income Supports. At the same time, people with disabilities who are not able to work should not be forced to look for work.
In addition, the government should eliminate the punitive approach to people who make mistakes in income reporting and/or other documents required by ODSP.
- Transfer ODSP delivery to municipalities
ACT does not support the downloading of social assistance, including affiliated employment service delivery, to the municipal level. There is a concern that if services are downloaded, individual municipalities may not prioritize ODSP recipients in the same way and may not dedicate the appropriate level of resources to service delivery, thereby increasing the vulnerability of this already vulnerable population. The current provincial delivery of ODSP Income and Employment Supports ensures a level playing field for delivery of services because those services are managed and delivered through one provincial body as opposed to many different municipal bodies. As the Government of Ontario is a champion of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), by maintaining ODSP supports at the provincial level, the government can demonstrate its commitment to action as well as legislation.
People with disabilities (including people living with HIV/AIDS) must be viewed as a distinct group for employment services and such services must take into account the specific disability. The stigma of HIV/AIDS remains pervasive in the workplace. People living with HIV/AIDS need to have continued access to specialized employment services and supports which they need to help achieve successful employment outcomes. This requires contracting out the delivery of direct services to third party delivery agents who are specialized in providing employment services for specific disabilities.
- Implement new performance-based funding arrangements with third-party service deliverers
The current ODSP funding model for third-party service deliverers needs to include funding for service providers for intake/assessment, skills upgrading, preparing for job readiness, job placement and retention supports follow-up while recognizing the unique needs for people living with disabilities. We understand this model is currently in place for Employment Ontario and under review with ODSP.
ACT’s Employment ACTion program experiences many clients who need a second, third or more replacement jobs due to a labour market that increasingly relies on contract work or part-time work. Helping service users to find work after their initial contracts expire requires additional employment supports which are not covered under current ODSP funding model.
- Earnings exemption of $200/month
We applaud the government for taking this first step in increasing the earnings exemption, but feel it does not go far enough. We advocate for an exemption of up to $500 a month in earnings and/or to reduce the claw back on earnings from the current 50% to 25%.
People with disabilities should be provided with an incentive to find and keep work. As well, housing-geared-to-income should be taken into account when considering earning exemptions, as the majority of people on disability are also in subsidized housing.
- Examine the impact of benefit withdrawal rates on the financial incentive to work to provide a better basis on which to establish the rate of withdrawal of social assistance benefits.
In today’s labour market which relies on contract or part-time work, often without benefits, people living with HIV/AIDS engaged in employment often need continuance of these benefits if they are not provided for by the employer.
- Accelerate the implementation of the adult phase of the comprehensive mental health and addictions strategy with a focus on employment as a key outcome.
In addition to health status, some people living with HIV/AIDS often experience mental health and substance use challenges as barriers to employment and personal well being. This population needs increased supports to access high-quality services including early identification and intervention.
- Partner with corporate leaders to champion the hiring of people with disabilities
We encourage the government to support and encourage the corporate sector to hire more people with disabilities. There are many small and large businesses who have been proactive and successful in hiring and integrating people with disabilities into the workforce. These models should be explored using a business-to-business educational approach and emphasizing the AODA. Service providers, particularly service providers with an expertise in episodic disabilities, should also be consulted and included in this process.
1. News Release: “Ontario Government Helping People Find Jobs, Improve Their Financial Security”, Ministry of Community and Social Services May 22, 2013
2. Lankin, Frances and Munir Sheik, Commissioners. Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario. A Report to the Minister of Community and Social Services, 2012. Toronto, Ontario. P124-125.