The Progressive Conservatives’ promise to slightly increase disability support payments is not enough to fix a ‘grossly flawed’ system that has left many Ontarians struggling, say those who count on the program.
“We are at a crossroads for many people with disabilities,” says Anthony Frisina, spokesperson for the Ontario Disability Coalition.
Frisina, who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, is one of more than 500,000 people in the province who rely on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) for some or all of their income. .
After years of neglect by several governments, the program’s woefully inadequate payments have allowed many Ontarians with disabilities to live below the poverty line.
The maximum a single person can receive through ODSP is $1,169 per month, or $14,028 per year. That’s about 30% below the province’s poverty line, which is about $20,000. The gap is even more pronounced in some urban centres. Monthly payments are 47.5% below the municipal poverty line in Toronto.
“How are people supposed to survive with this? said Tony Bensley, 58. Bensley has autism and type 1 diabetes and has been on ODSP since 2005.
He lives in London, Ontario with his wife, who is also receiving ODSP benefits due to severe osteoarthritis. Because they’re married, their combined monthly payment is capped at around $2,000. The skyrocketing cost of living has pushed them to breaking point.
“The worst part is really having to count the pennies every month and then having to figure out what’s being paid… We’re basically overdrawn every month. That’s the reality,” he told CBC News.
Upcoming 5% rate increase, depending on PCs
A pledge of $245 million to increase ODSP rates was one of the concrete promises the Conservatives made during the election campaign. The party said it would raise rates by 5% and link future increases to inflation. This would be the first rate jump in Ontario since 2018, when Premier Doug Ford’s government implemented a 1.5% increase.
Campaign engagement was an unexpected pivot. The Conservatives’ pre-election budget did not include any increases to ODSP, even though more Ontarians are expected to rely on the program in years to come.
CBC News asked if there is a firm timeline for when recipients can expect to see larger payouts. A Ford office spokesman said the new government “will have more to say in the coming days.”
Ivana Yelich highlighted Ford’s comments after his re-election. He said the Department of Finance would make small changes to ODSP rates before the budget is reintroduced “because it’s the right thing to do.”
“We see costs rising,” Ford added. PCs did not indicate when the new budget will be tabled.
“It’s not enough”, says the lawyer
A 5% increase would mean $58.45 more per month for a single person who qualifies for the maximum ODSP payment – still well below the provincial poverty line. Adjusted for inflation, the payout would still be lower than what recipients received on former Prime Minister Mike Harris’ last day in office in 2002, according to an analysis by economist Mike Moffatt.
“It’s not enough. It barely covers the cost of inflation,” says Frisina, 42. Proponents have long called for current rates to be doubled to compensate for years of stagnation. The Greens were the only major Ontario party to commit to it during the campaign.
The situation is heartbreaking enough to have some Ontarians with disabilities considering medical assistance in dying (MAID), Frisina says. “It’s basically a matter of life or death,” he adds.
Bensley says the promised increase is “better than zero”, but will only mean that recipients won’t fall further behind.
“To me, it’s just another slap in the face,” he says. “It’s just to keep it from getting worse.”
Bensley adds that he hopes more money will be available for housing. As it stands, $497 is for those costs. There are few cities left in Ontario where a one-bedroom apartment can be rented for less than $900 per month, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
“They need to push the boundaries of housing costs out of the 90s and 2020s.”
Ajax’s Alexis Wilson-Kenney says current rates mean she is often forced to forgo meals. Unable to work due to several health problems, the monthly payments are just “survival money”.
“And sometimes it feels like it’s not even enough for that,” says Wilson-Kenney, 41.
She is skeptical of the new government’s ODSP promises, but says she welcomes the extra money, however limited.
“Maybe I’ll have an extra $50 each month that I can spend on food so I don’t have to skip so many days or have to ask my mom to cook me dinner so many times,” he explains. she. “Or maybe I can buy new winter boots this year if I save up.”
Ripple effects for families, friends
Low ODSP rates also often have ripple effects for families.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Terri Todesco had to quit her job to care for her 21-year-old daughter Anna, who was born with a genetic condition and requires round-the-clock care.
Her exceptional needs mean that a day program for Anna would cost $145 a day, more than Todesco earned at his job. Todesco, 53, is trying to go back to school to start a new, better paying career so he can afford Anna’s day program while paying her bills.
Higher ODSP payments for Anna could ease the burden of those costs, which could help her lead a more fulfilling life, she says.
With her own health issues and no family nearby, Todesco worries about what might happen to Anna if she isn’t there to care for her.
“Would there be a group home? What support would she receive? It breaks my heart that along the way she may be hurt, mistreated or neglected,” she said from Belleville, Ont. .
For Ontarians concerned about what higher ODSP rates would mean for the province’s coffers, Todesco says it’s about helping vulnerable people live with dignity.
“Do you realize how much ODSP is allotted to you? And would you be able to live on that amount if something were to happen tomorrow?” she asks.
“We are only one car accident, a head injury, a stroke, a fall from a ladder away from becoming disabled,” she says. “And I urge people to think long and hard about what that would mean for them.”