Making sense of Ontario's social assistance reforms

December 3, 2018
Article Source
Toronto Star

The Ford government's plan to overhaul provincial social assistance, announced Nov. 22, was long on rhetoric and short on details.

Lisa MacLeod, minister of children, community and social services, said she is working with other ministries and municipalities to create a system that provides dignity for everyone and individualized action plans to help those who can work find employment. Changes are expected in the next 18 months.

But what does it mean for almost one million residents who rely on Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)? The Star waded through government statements and websites and consulted advocates and social policy experts to find out.

The government says it wants to change the definition of disability for ODSP to align with federal guidelines. How does Ottawa define disability?

The federal government has two main programs that serve people with disabilities -- the Canada Pension Plan disability benefit (CPP-D) and the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) -- and both define disability more narrowly than ODSP.

CPP-D is for people under age 65 who have contributed to CPP, but can no longer work due to injury or illness. To qualify, a disability must be both "severe" and "prolonged," and prevent the person from being able to work at any job on a regular basis, according to the federal government's website. Under the definition, "severe" is defined as a mental or physical disability that regularly prevents the person from working in any type of employment.

"Prolonged" means the disability is long-term and of indefinite duration or is likely to result in death. Both the "severe" and "prolonged" criteria must be met simultaneously at the time of application.

Anyone can apply for the DTC (including people getting CPP-D). The qualification criteria is not dependent on ability to work, but rather the ability to carry out "basic activities of daily living." These are defined as speaking, hearing, walking, bowel and bladder functions, feeding, dressing and mental functions necessary for daily life.

To qualify for the DTC, a person must be blind or "markedly restricted" in at least one basic daily living activity or "significantly restricted" in two or more basic living activities, or receiving life-sustaining therapy, such as dialysis. A person is "markedly restricted" if it takes an inordinate amount of time to do one of the basic daily living activities even with therapy, medication and appropriate devices. "Significantly restricted" means a person may not meet the criteria for "markedly restricted" but is still greatly restricted.

In addition, the person's impairment must be prolonged -- has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months -- and be present 90 per cent of the time.

Read more: Making sense of Ontario's social assistance reforms