Ontario’s social-assistance reform just reforms the surface

The changes allow relief to some. Others? Not so much

Ontario’s “government for the people” has released a plan for social-assistance reform that might not benefit all the people.

After conducting a 100-day review, Lisa MacLeod, the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, unveiled a new social-assistance plan on Nov. 22. The reforms, the government says, will make the system “simpler, more efficient and more effective for people who need support.”

One of the changes is designed to remove barriers to receiving social assistance by, among other things, dropping unnecessary rules and simplifying the system.

Another big change would allow people on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to keep more of the money they make if they are able to work.

In the past, people who were working and on ODSP were able to keep only $200 a month in earnings before being penalized. The new plan would move away from monthly earnings and allow participants to make $6,000 a year without being penalized, MacLeod said.

For Ontario Works, people were able to keep $200 a month without being penalized. With the changes, they’ll be able to keep $300 a month.

But there are also aspects of the new plan that don’t help people.

First, the increase in benefits under OW and ODSP applies only to those who are able to work. It is not clear if extra funding would be provided to those unable to work.

Second, the province plans to change the way it defines disability to align it with the federal government’s definition. The latter does not have a single, clear definition. The potential problem: The new plan could exclude some people from applying for and receiving the financial assistance they need. It’s not clear when the definition will be changed.

All of these announced changes come after the provincial government cut the basic-income pilot project and slashed ODSP and OW increases from the previous government’s planned 3 per cent to 1.5 per cent.

These new details are just the beginning of the system’s reform. More changes are expected over the next year.

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Posted: Dec 5 2018 10:56 am
Filed under: Opinion