Keeping Up the Pressure

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Ontario Disability Support Payment office in St. Thomas is scheduled to close in October.

ST. THOMAS – Both St. Thomas and Elgin county councillors are prepared to sit down again Thursday, in a second attempt to keep up the lobby on the Ontario government not to close the Ontario Disability Support Payment offices in the fall.

At the first meeting in June, a report from Barbara Arbuckle, director of St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works, outlined the issue which threatens to affect anyone in St. Thomas or Elgin who needs to speak to someone about Ontario Disability Support Payments.

The office, currently located on the third floor at 423 Talbot St., will close in October, the Ministry of Community and Social Services announced in May.

The closure will mean anyone wanting to speak face-to-face to an ODSP counsellor, will have to travel to London.

At the June meeting, councillors agreed a letter would have to be sent to the minister of community and social services outlining local concerns and asking for reconsideration.

Thursday’s meeting will update city and county councillors on the progress of the issue. A draft letter has been prepared and sent to the minister of community and social services by St. Thomas Mayor Heather Jackson

The issue involves both St. Thomas and Elgin county councils because each share in the cost of delivering social assistance benefits through St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works.

Some of the points raised by Arbuckle in a report are that the current service is suited to local people provided in a small town setting and that those same people will now have to travel to London for future ODSP services.

“Local ODSP clients who have developed a working relationship with their caseworker may have increased difficulty in accessing that person directly,” Arbuckle said.

Other issues Arbuckle anticipates from the planned closing of the office include potential problems for getting public transportation to London to go to the office and potentially, an increased workload for St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works staff from ODSP clients turning to them for help.

And those staff might not be the only ones having to deal with frustrated ODSP recipients, Arbuckle said.

“The local MP, MPP and mayor ‘s office may see an increase in inquiries from ODSP clients.”

The two councils and Conservative MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London Jeff Yurek have not been the only ones lobbying on the ODSP issue.

Ken Brooks, executive director of Oxford-Elgin Legal Clinic in St. Thomas, which assists people with ODSP issues, has also been lobbying the province to keep the office.

He has had no response to letters sent to the province. Brooks said he appreciates the efforts of St. Thomas and Elgin county staff and councils.

“It’s all beneficial,” Brooks said. “I think them doing their stuff and us doing our stuff is probably fine because you have an approach on different fronts with different approaches to it.”

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