The 2012 Ontario Budget is deeply disappointing for the nearly 900,000 men, women, and children in Ontario who currently rely on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program for income and other necessary benefits.
As previously announced, the Budget includes a freeze on social assistance rates and a delay in increasing the Ontario Child Benefit to the promised maximum of $1,310 per child per year. ISAC has already commented on the impact of these measures, which will take at least $150 million out of the pockets of people on OW and ODSP each year.
Ministry officials confirmed today that Basic Needs rates will once again be restructured when the additional $100 per year is added to the Ontario Child Benefit in July 2012. The details of what the Basic Needs benefit will look like for people with children on OW and ODSP are yet to be determined.
The full Budget, announced today, includes additional cuts to benefits of $30 million this year alone. These reductions will total $217 million over the next 3 years.
First, government will end the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) and the Home Repairs Benefit as of January 1, 2013. CSUMB helps people on assistance with costs like first / last month’s rent deposits, buying or replacing furniture (when moving into a new place or when disaster strikes like bedbug-infested mattresses and couches), deposits for utilities, overdue utility bills, and other similar expenses. Currently, about 16,000 OW and ODSP recipients rely on CSUMB every month to pay for costs like these. The Home Repairs Benefit helps people pay for things like emergency plumbing repairs, patching a leaky roof, or repairing damage from fire or floods, but only if there’s no other source of funds that people can use.
Half of the $120 million that currently goes to CSUMB and the Home Repairs Benefit will be moved to the Ministry of Housing, and folded in with five other programs. These five programs were already slated to be consolidated under the government’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy. The new consolidated money will be given to municipalities to fund housing and homelessness programs for all low-income people. The new criteria for these programs have not yet been created.
In addition, Budget 2012 announced changes that will reduce health-related discretionary benefits for people on Ontario Works. These are benefits for things like dental emergencies and eyeglasses for adults, and funerals and burials. A new cap on the amount of money the province gives to municipalities to fund these benefits will put pressure on municipalities to restrict payment of these benefits to people on OW. The government expects to save $14 million this year and $55 million over the next three years on these benefits. This change does not affect health-related benefits for people on ODSP.
The news is better than it would have been if the government had adopted the Drummond Commission’s recommendation to cap social assistance spending increases at 0.5% per year. But even the 2.9% overall spending increase projected over the next three years will hurt people who already live far below the poverty line. Overall, the reductions in benefits to people on assistance will disproportionately impact on people on Ontario Works.
Just as troubling as these cuts to direct benefits to people is the constraints the Budget places on the Social Assistance Review Commission.
The Budget states that government wants to move toward integrating employment supports for people on both OW and ODSP under Employment Ontario, as part of a move to consolidate all employment and training services across government. This is just one option for employment supports delivery that the Review Commission presented in its recent discussion paper, which communities have just finished responding to.
And the Budget indicates that government will be moving to centralize the collection of any outstanding debts to the government. What this means for people on OW and ODSP in terms of overpayments is unclear. Legislation on centralizing collections is expected to be presented in the fall.
Overall, what these measures will mean for the Review Commission is yet to be determined.
Budget 2012 and the reductions it contains for the next three years surely means that government will not meet its target of reducing child and family poverty by 25% by 2013.