“The main reason we’re here today is to tell the politicians we want everyone lifted out of poverty,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas.
Toronto (22 April 2013)
People with disabilities and the front line staff who work with them joined forces on April 10 to tell Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs): improve disability benefits, but not in the ways recommended by a provincial commission.
The lobby, organized by the the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Action Coalition, attracted over 75 people to give MPPs a deeply personal perspective on the challenges of living with a disability and trying to make ends meet on an income that is 30 per cent below the poverty line.
Among the 30 MPPs in attendence, there were five cabinet ministers, the chief government whip, House Leader and Speaker.
“The main reason we’re here today is to tell the politicians we want everyone lifted out of poverty,” said President Warren (Smokey) Thomas in a short speech to MPPs, people with disabilities and ODSP staff.
What is the ODSP?
The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) provides a tiny income, prescription drug coverage and employment supports to people with disabilities who qualify.
ODSP gives assistance to 415,000 Ontarians through 44 field offices. OPSEU/NUPGE represents 1,800 staff at ODSP province-wide.
Coalition members, ODSP staff and OPSEU leaders talked to MPPs about the daily struggles of people with disabilities to find meaningful work, secure affordable housing, eat healthy food, participate in the community, and travel to medical appointments. They talked shared in concrete ways what many of the government changes mean for people with disabilities.
Coalition member Louise Bark of Kingston listed the hourly wages of some jobs in her area, and itemized her expenses, to illustrate the fact that the income people receive from ODSP doesn’t meet costs. She pointed out she was one of the lucky ones because her rent is geared to her income.
Theresa Somerton of Belleville talked about the impact of the provincial drug program’s decision to stop paying for some of her medications and how this has made it difficult for her to seek medical attention for her disability.
Parent Sylvia Holinaty travelled to Queens’ Park from Hamilton with a group of Special Olympics athletes, including her son. Ms. Holinaty talked about the challenges of stretching her limited budget to pay $30 to make sure her son had healthy food for the journey.
Other negative ODSP changes
MPPs were told that eliminating the Special Diet Allowance, changing the rules about the amount of earnings people can keep from working, and combining ODSP with the social assistance program Ontario Works will cut the incomes of people with disabilities. These are all recommendations of the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance which the Wynne government is studying for possible implementation.
ODSP staff, representing two-thirds of ODSP offices in the province, talked about the fallout from the government’s decision to eliminate the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit. This program provided emergency housing grants to people on social assistance. The government replaced CSUMB with a small amount of funds for municipalities to provide, at their discretion, to all low-income people.
ODSP staff said the government had eliminated an important “tool from their tool box” in terms of helping people cover housing expenses and they said people are being turned down for assistance from their municipality.
The problem of unequal access of benefits will only grow more acute if the government downloads ODSP to municipalities, as recommended by the provincial commission on social assistance.