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Monday, August 29, 2011

Response to Review of Social Assistance

In Ontario, the Social Assistance programs are under review.  The Commission involved is in charge of "examining social assistance in Ontario through engagement, research and analysis to provide the government with a concrete action plan to improve the system for the people who need it."

There are comment and response forms for people to reply and contribute, found on the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario website.  

Being a recipient of ODSP, I contributed my own comments, as seen below:

When determining social assistance rates, the cost of living needs to be considered.  Depending on location and the fluctuation of the economy, the cost of living changes.  In such cases such as the present, when the cost of living rises, so should the rates in order to ensure that recipients are able to afford necessary items such as food, clothing, rent (which for any higher quality of life is much higher than the amount given for rent with ODSP), as well as be able to pay the bills. 

As a recipient of ODSP, I find it a challenge to find work that makes it worth the deductions from social assistance.  Part of the problem is that it seems that the deductions are taken off with the assumption that any income we make in the previous month will be used for the next month.  I can tell you that it is not.  Often, because ODSP does not adequately cover all the costs of living, recipients who are working use income in the same month that they earn it.  This means that there is no saving for the month ahead, and the deductions actually serve to create a cycle of debt and poverty that is increasingly harder to break.

Also, with the current economy and job market, it is extremely difficult for persons with and without disabilities to get a job that would lead to coming off of social assistance.  The amount paid by most jobs available are not sufficient to take the place of the deductions in a person's social assistance and so there is a constant need to find a better job, leading to an inconsistent history of employment, as well as an increased risk of a person burning out and becoming depression and/or further disabled mentally. 

By the time a person is able to find a decent paying job that does not cost a huge amount of emotional stress and is able to gradually have social assistance withdrawn, the person is in quite a bit of debt due to the cycle created by earning deductions in social assistance. In such a situation, it is near impossible for a person to save for the future, either for needed items for a new job, or items to enhance quality of life, or to put towards miscellaneous costs such as over the counter flu and cold medications as well as other medical costs that are not covered by benefits, or towards retirement in old age.

The Registered Disability Saving Plan is an attempt to allow persons with disabilities to save towards their old age, however, there are some concerns about being able to get accounts registered.  For accounts to be registered, a person must have the Disability Tax Credit, which has a different definition and set of requirements than ODSP.  What is puzzling is the mix of seemingly specific yet vague criteria needed on the applications.  What is needed is a standardized definition of disability so that ODSP recipients applying for the tax credit in order to register their RDSP is able to be approved and thus be granted financial security for the future by saving what they can afford from jobs, especially if they are able to get jobs that just barely gets them off social assistance but not improve their quality of life.

What is also problematic is how education is handled by ODSP.  ODSP is suppose to not deduct earnings if a recipient is taking post-secondary education classes.  However, there are times in which earnings are deducted despite the recipient informing and even providing documentation of their student status.  This is especially the case during the summer months, when there are also classes available for students. 

Between being unable to save for the future, and being unable to save for post-secondary education that may especially prove to lead to higher-paying employment, ODSP often hinders the efforts of recipients to gain adequate employment to no longer require social assistance and be able to improve one's quality of life.  Rather than aiding people, social assistance as it currently operates perpetuates and increases poverty conditions for low-income persons, families and disabled people.

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