The province has no immediate plans to increase funding for social assistance programs such as the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or the Ontario Works (OW) program despite a 15-year “steadily growing caseload,” documents obtained through a freedom of information request suggest.
A report, included in the transition binder of Minister of Children, Community and Social Service Michael Parsa and reviewed by CTV News Toronto, says funding provided through both these programs are a “last resort support” to individuals in financial need.
The report makes no specific mention of any plans to increase the funding for the programs, noting instead that “increases to rates and benefits to reflect inflation and cost of living will drive additional costs” in the years to come.
Almost 900,000 people are receiving funding through one of the province’s social assistance programs, representing about 6.9 per cent of the province’s population. This number has “steadily” increased over the last 15 years, the documents read, and is expected to further grow with the uncertain impact of the pandemic.
“Since social assistance is an entitlement program, there is limited ability to control costs without changing rules,” the documents say.
“To date, efforts to bend the cost curve have focused on how to improve client outcomes to reduce the need for financial assistance.”
As part of the Doug Ford re-election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives pledged to increase ODSP payments by five per cent, which would add about $58 a month to a recipient’s paycheck.
They also legislated an annual increase based on inflation.
The first inflationary increase is set to happen at the end of July. According to the ODSP Action Coalition, this will provide single adults with an additional $80 per month–or a 6.5 per cent increase in their payments.
Monthly payments for a single adult will increase to about $1,308, the organization says.
Ron Anicich, a long-time radio host in Toronto who is an ODSP recipient, told CTV News Toronto that despite the Ford government’s investments, recipients are still left well below the poverty line.
He also said he’s not surprised to hear of the province’s lack of intention to increase funding for the program.
“They haven’t invested anything – it’s basically been a net zero for them,” Anicich said in an interview Thursday.
As for the inflationary increase set to come into place in a matter of days, Anicich feels the measure falls short.
“The inflationary increase is calculated from September 2021 to September 2022 – it’s July 2023,” he noted. “A 6.5 per cent original increase now represents a pretty major shortfall and that means disabled people are not better off in terms of how far their money actually goes.”
Trevor Manson, Co-Chair of the ODSP Action Coalition and an ODSP recipient himself, echoed these sentiments when reached for comment.
“It’s good that rates are being tied to inflation,” Manson said. “However, because of the rate on which the inflationary increases are based, it’s already 40 per cent below the poverty line, which pretty much ensures that people on ODSP will face perpetual legislative poverty.
The report notes the government is spending about $9.4 billion on social assistance. About $5.7 billion is earmarked for ODSP and another $2.8 billion is for OW.
ODSP Action Coalition has long called for the doubling of the rates, something all political parties aside from the Progressive Conservatives promised during the 2022 election.
‘A FOCUS ON CLIENT OUTCOMES’: PROVINCE
The report details a new direction for social assistance in Ontario – one that seeks to improve “client outcomes” over increased funding.
To meet these goals, the Ministry of Community, Children, and Social Services is partnering with the Ministry of Labour to create a “locally responsive, outcomes based” employment services system that meets the diverse needs of a range of job seekers and employers
In the report, the government lists employment as the primary factor under “client outcomes.” However, the report also notes there are “complex barriers to employment” for individuals on ODSP and OW.
For example, about 42 per cent of adults on ODSP have less than a Grade 12 education, the documents say. About 9 per cent of ODSP cases and 29 per cent of OW cases are single-parent families.
By the end of 2023, the government hopes to have private employment providers integrated into the program and set up in 15 regions across the province. There are already programs set up in Peel, Hamilton-Niagara, Muskoka-Kawarthas, York, Halton, Stratford-Bruce Peninsula and Kingston -Pembroke.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton told CTV News Toronto back in September that these companies will be paid based on outcomes and job placements.
However, when asked about the initiative, Manson said it may encourage agencies to connect recipients with jobs they may not be well suited for.
“The province is tendering employment services to basically the lowest bidder, whoever can provide employment services for the most value for their dollar,” he said.
“That incentivizes them to put people in a job, any job, it doesn’t matter what the job is.”
CTV News Toronto did ask a spokesperson for the ministry whether there were any further stand-alone increases to ODSP or OW being considered and they seemed to indicate that future increases will instead be tied to inflation.
The spokesperson also pointed out that the government has already increased the benefits by “almost 12 per cent since July of 2022.”
“Future increases for ODSP and ACSD will be tied to inflation going forward, helping recipients to keep pace with the rising costs of life’s essentials. The government is lifting people out of poverty and providing meaningful opportunities, training, placements, and supports to help those who can work,” Patrick Bissett wrote.
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