Ontario is Updating its Social Assistance Programs

The province's latest changes to social assistance programs are coming into effect this fall.

Ontario will boost payments and change some rules for existing programs in order to increase support, while making other changes to assure recipients an easier transition to employment as well as onto ODSP.

Among the changes as of September 1, the province is increasing social assistance rates for all individuals receiving support from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) by two per cent. Ontario Works recipients will see a two per cent increase of their rates in October.

The province is also raising asset limits, the cap on income which individuals and couples can earn without facing a clawback of their support. According to a press release, the province is raising those limits "so that people can better manage financial setbacks."

Some concrete numbers:

  • The monthly maximum deduction for disability-related employment expenses is rising from $300 to $1,000.
  • The income exemption for cash gifts will increase from $6,000 to $10,000 for both ODSP and Ontario Works recipients, which the province said is a move to recognize the role of support from family and friends.
  • The changes aren't just about dollars. According to Helena Jaczek, Ontario's community and social services minister, the province is also adjusting rules to "ensure quicker, more efficient and better access" to social assistance. For example, ODSP applicants who were found to be a person with a disability but were ineligible for other reasons formerly had to start from scratch by regaining recognition of their disability. Now, they can reapply without their disability being re-adjudicated.
  • Those who leave the ODSP program and need to re-enter will now be re-instated regardless of why they left.

As of July 1, this year, an Ontario Works recipient can stop their support for up to six months instead of one month, and return to the program without completing an entirely new application.

To address what the province calls "unique challenges" that come with physical distance, the Remote Communities Allowance is increasing by $50 for the first recipient and $25 for each additional family member.

These are the latest in a $480 million series of changes to social assistance over four years.

According to the press release, "Since 2013, the government has increased rates by 6.7 per cent for Ontario Works families and individuals with disabilities receiving ODSP benefits; and by 19 per cent for single people without children receiving Ontario Works benefits."

Previous changes include exemption of child support from social assistance payments and removal of a secondary verification process for those already deemed eligible for ministry-funded adult developmental services.

According to a pre-budget submission in January by the group:

The rate of income for persons with disabilities receiving provincial support was frozen for a decade from 1993 to 2003. Following this, small, incremental increases were made each year - just 1% for the last few years, and 1.5% last year. These minimal increases have not kept pace with the rate of inflation. The basic costs of living - rent, food, phone, hydro, transportation, and clothing - have risen much faster than that.

More than 900,000 adults and children in Ontario receive social assistance each day.

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