ISAC calls on the government to raise social assistance rates and to maintain social assistance recipient’s access to health and other benefits for the duration of the pandemic. From April to December 2021, the government spent $5.5 billion less than forecast. Some of these savings funds should be reinvested in social assistance to help vulnerable low-income Ontarians.
On March 2, 2022, the Federal Accountability Office (FAO) released a report on the government’s spending in the first three quarters of 2021-2022. The government continues to underspend on social assistance, spending $1.1 billion less on Ontario Works, the Ontario Disability Support Program and the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan in the first three quarters of 2021-2022.
While this is not surprising with lowered caseloads during the pandemic – both because of temporary federal pandemic supports and border closures – what is a shock is the lack of reinvestment of these savings during this difficult time.
The only financial pandemic support for social assistance recipients from the provincial government was a temporary discretionary benefit of $100 for singles and $200 for couples per month during the first four months of the pandemic. Less than 50% of recipients were able to access that support.
In November 2021, the government also decided to end access to health and other benefits for social assistance recipients who were able to access temporary federal pandemic benefits. Benefits lost included the guide dog benefit and transitional employment supports. These recipients experience further delays in accessing healthcare and other benefits when they are reinstated on social assistance after federal benefits end.
ISAC continues to call for a reinvestment in social assistance for vulnerable and low-income Ontarians. People living in deep poverty should not be bearing the brunt of the pandemic or Ontario’s recovery.