Informed by ongoing consultation with our community partners on issues relevant to our mandate, ISAC has made the following eight recommendations for the Spring 2023 budget:
Invest in Income Security Programs
Recommendation #1: Raise social assistance rates and broaden access
a) Increase Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program dependent adults earnings exemptions to $1000 per month.
b) Index Ontario Works rates and double both Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program rates against 2018 rates.
c) Ensure access to social assistance to all people who live in Ontario, regardless of immigration status.
Recommendation #2: Allow social assistance clients to keep more money in their pockets
a) Forgive all overpayments for social assistance clients who have accessed temporary federal pandemic-related benefits.
b) Implement three regulatory changes: a flat-rate structure, the option of annual reconciliation of income earnings, and align the definition of spouse under social assistance with the Family Law Act.
c) Eliminate the $10,000 limit on voluntary gifts and payments and raise the limit on cash and other liquid assets to $20,000 for Ontario Works clients. For Ontario Disability Support Program clients, eliminate the $10,000 limit on voluntary gifts and payments and raise the asset limit to $100,000.
Recommendation #3: Ensure the success of the modernization of social assistance
a) Invest in robust trauma-informed and client-centred wraparound services including childcare, disability, housing, and literacy, mental health and addiction, settlement, translation, and transportation supports to provide life stabilization services and to address barriers to employment for those who are ready and able to work. These supports must be culturally appropriate and responsive to the needs of Indigenous, racialized, 2SLGBTQI+, and newcomer communities, and the language rights of Francophone communities.
b) Ensure the Employment Services Transformation is evidence-based and transparent, that there is sufficient mandatory work-related benefits and job training, and that jobs are long-term, stable, provide decent wages, necessary workplace accommodations, and meaningful work.
c) Implement a new $100 per month digital access benefit for essential cellphone and internet services, a $200 digital access benefit every two years to pay for digital equipment and hardware, and digital literacy training that will assist with using new digital tools and platforms.
Invest in Access to Justice
Recommendation #4: Immediately address the critical delays and backlog of cases at the Human Rights Tribunal by providing additional resources to the Tribunal, appointing qualified and competent adjudicators, creating a specialized team to deal with the backlog of cases, reconstituting a stakeholder advisory council, and engaging in transparent communication with the public about key goals and outcomes to address the delays. The Tribunal must immediately cease its practice of widespread dismissal of applications based on alleged jurisdictional grounds and ensure parties can make oral submissions before any decisions to dismiss a case are made.
Recommendation #5: Increase Legal Aid Ontario funding by $130 million to cover future potential shortfalls and develop a longer-term, and structurally stable funding plan. This will support low-income Ontarians in accessing justice throughout the province.
Invest in Justice for Workers
Recommendation #6: Legislate 10 Personal Emergency Leave days in the Employment Standards Act, 2000 that can be used for employer-paid sick leave. Legislate an additional 14 days of employer-paid sick leave during declared public health outbreaks.
Recommendation #7: Immediately increase the minimum wage to $20 per hour and implement laws to ensure that workers who do similar work receive equal pay.
Recommendation #8: To protect app-based gig workers and end misclassification of employees, enact a presumption of employee status and the ABC test within the Employment Standards Act, 2000.
These recommendations were submitted to the Ministry of Finance through the provincial government’s dedicated 2023 Budget Consultations page, and to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. ISAC’s Senior Policy Analyst, Devorah Kobluk, will be appearing as a witness before the Committee on Monday, February 13, 2023 to present the recommendations.