Important Commitment on Social Assistance Reform Announced Today
There was important news today about the future of social assistance reform in Ontario.
Ted McMeekin, the Minister of Community and Social Services, said today that OW and ODSP will not be merged into one program.
You might remember that the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario issued its report in October 2012.
The Commission’s report was the latest in a long series of steps toward making critically important reforms to Ontario’s two social assistance programs, Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
But the Commission’s report was also uneven. While it had some good things to say about improvements to OW, many of the recommendations around ODSP pose potential dangers for people with disabilities.
One recommendation in particular was very troubling:
“Recommendation 17: We recommend that Ontario Works and ODSP be replaced by one integrated program that provides individualized services and supports to all social assistance recipients”.
People who receive ODSP as well as advocates and activists were very concerned about this recommendation. The danger was that people with disabilities would lose the special focus that ODSP places on disability. People worried that a merged program that didn’t have that focus would be even less likely to properly respond to the needs of people with disabilities.
But today in Question Period, Minister McMeekin said:
“Our government has considered the recommendation that both programs be merged, but we believe keeping them intact is the best way forward. We will not be merging the two programs. We’ve heard loud and clear that this is not the way to go, so we’re looking forward to improving the programs as they exist.”
This is a victory for people with disabilities and their allies, who spoke out strongly against a merger. Maintaining a program that explicitly recognizes that people with disabilities face particular challenges is critical to making future positive reforms.
It’s very important that the government has clarified where they stand on the recommendation to merge the programs, and that this recommendation has been rejected. And it’s important that they aren’t rushing to implement everything in the Commission’s report as it stands.
The next important test of the government’s commitment to positive reform will be in the upcoming provincial budget, which is likely to be announced in early May.
ISAC made a number of recommendations for next steps in our pre-budget submission, including: increasing the incomes of people on social assistance, letting single parents keep money from child support payments, getting rid of the 3-month “spouse in the house” rule, increasing and indexing the Ontario Child Benefit, giving all low-income Ontarians extended medical benefits, making transitional homeless funding permanent, protecting the Special Diet Allowance, and helping low income people access tax-delivered benefits.
We’ll all be watching to see what the 2014-15 Budget holds for people on social assistance and for all low-income Ontarians.
See the Commission’s report and recommendations:http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/publications/social_assistance_review_final_report.pdf
Watch ISAC’s webinar that explains the Commission’s recommendations and what they could mean for people on OW and ODSP: http://yourlegalrights.on.ca/webinar/brighter-prospects-commissions-report-and-future-direction-social-assistance-reform
Read the ODSP Action Coalition’s position paper on why merging the programs would have been the wrong way to go: http://www.odspaction.ca/sites/odspaction.ca/files/combiningowandodsp.doc
Check Hansard to read the Minister’s full remarks during Question Period today:http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/house-proceedings/house_current.do?locale=en
Download ISAC’s Pre-Budget Submission: Ontario Budget 2014 - Pre Budget Submission To Standing Committee