ODSP and Ontario's Basic Income Pilot Program

Submitted by Susan Creer on August 3, 2017 - 4:44am
Opinion Piece

Hello everyone. I hope all is well. I have some serious concerns about Ontario's ‘Basic Income’ pilot program. Let me explain. If one receives Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits, one lives far below the poverty line. If one receives Ontario Works (welfare), they also living much too far below the poverty line. Therefore, sadly many of the ‘working poor’ are one paycheque away from being homeless or suffering in other ways such as not being able to pay their hydro bills. 

Susan Creer

I have sadly found ODSP to be a primarily punitive system. Statistics Canada states that a single adult living on less than $28,000 a year is living in extreme poverty. ODSP recipients can receive a maximum of about $1,100 per month, which is broken down into ‘shelter’ and ‘living expenses’. However, if an ODSP recipient lives in rent-geared-to-income (RGI) housing, they only receive about $808/month. And, unless your personal situation changes (e.g. marriage or adoption), you cannot move from one RGI unit to another.

Under ODSP rules and regulations, some recipients are able to work. They may just need assistance in the short term while they recover from an accident, bad divorce, etc. Others end up in the system for a little longer due to permanent disabilities. ODSP lets one keep $200 of any earned income but the rest is taken away at 50%. 

ODSP recipients under the current Provincial Liberals are worse off than they were under the Mike Harris Conservatives, which took some doing. ODSP hidden cuts that recipients cannot easily fight such as the Special Diet allowance, Community Start-up grant, and the Business start-up Grant, which was reduced from $5000 to $500.

Another ODSP issue is that it does not allow for the same business expenses that my accountant says that Revenue Canada does. I have worked many contract gigs as a theatre professional and administrative assistant. My accountant advised me there were certain allowable deductions and showed me how to set up my tax files. ODSP, however does not consider vehicle insurance a legitimate expense. As Revenue Canada does, this systems requires keeping two sets of books which is an expensive waste of time. 

ODSP recipients also run the risk of receiving what I call ‘nasty-grams’. Nasty-grams are letters from ODSP in which they threaten to cut you off if you do not provide some piece of information, usually on very short notice. I once faxed some information to my worker three times but it kept being lost in the ODSP office. She was then threatening to cut off my benefits. I explained that she was literally taking food from my mouth. Her response was to offer to send me a list of the local food banks. Her actions made my life less. 

A number of local agencies are working on initiatives around a ‘Basic Income’. Some others are working with MPP Paul Miller on a Private Members Bill for evidence-based assistance amounts. A real concern with the Provincial Liberals ‘Basic Income’ pilot is that there seem to be very few details about who qualifies. Will an ODSP recipient in RGI housing qualify? What happens with the Basic Income pilot ‘income amounts’ that someone earns?

Recipients are not asking for the sun, the moon and the sky, but benefit amounts that are liveable and tied to inflation. Minimum wage should be a living wage. I continue to advocate from the pulpit, in the media, and from the podium.


Susan J. Creer B.A. Making Waves Productions. 


NOTE: The irony is for people living on ODSP and Ontario Works is that many of their policies and decisions are keeping people living in serious poverty.

Ontario gives with one hand, takes with the other: Goar
Social assistance recipients are reeling from an $8 drop in their monthly benefit.
July 31, 2014
According to John Stapleton of Open Policy Ontario [ http://openpolicyontario.com/ ], which tracks financial support for families in need, welfare incomes adjusted for inflation have dropped by 34 per cent since the Liberals took power in 2003. Disability support payments have fallen by 14 per cent. 
[Kathleen Wynne's] Liberals are less punitive than the Conservatives who chopped welfare rates by 21.6 per cent under former premier Mike Harris [ http://goo.gl/UAJxqM ] and kept them frozen for eight years. But both McGuinty and Premier Kathleen Wynne have steadfastly ignored pleas by the province’s poorest citizens to put food in the budget; provide a shelter allowance; or bring welfare rates up to Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off.

Toronto Star