Advocacy groups entreat Ontario government to double social assistance rates

The Ontario legislature's front entrance at Queen's Park is seen in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — More than 200 advocacy groups have signed an open letter asking the Ontario government to double disability support payment rates and ensure they keep up with the soaring cost of living.

The letter, released Monday by the Income Security Advocacy Centre, said the Progressive Conservative government’s plan to increase disability support payment rates by five per cent in next month’s budget is far from what financial aid recipients need.

“With continued inflation, and the associated increase in cost of living, 5 per cent is not nearly enough of a rate increase to survive,” ISAC wrote. “We call on this government to double both (Ontario Works) and (Ontario Disability Support Program) rates, and to index these rates to inflation.”

The recent provincial election campaign saw the Progressive Conservatives promise to raise Ontario Disability Support Program rates by five per cent and introduce legislation to tie annual increases to inflation.

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ISAC said that proposal amounts to $58 extra per month for ODSP recipients and doesn’t account for the 458,000 low-income people who receive support through Ontario Works.

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Social assistance rates have been stagnant since 2018, with a single person able to receive up to $1,169 a month on ODSP and $733 on OW — well below the poverty line.

ISAC said inflation rates have driven costs up so high that it’s “impossible” for social assistance recipients to pay for basic needs, including housing, food and medication.

The letter was addressed to Premier Doug Ford, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy and Social Services Minister Merrilee Fullerton, and signed by more than 200 non-profits that advocate for poverty reduction and income security. Signatories include legal clinics, health organizations, social service providers and community groups.

A spokesman for Fullerton on Monday reiterated the government’s plan for a five per cent ODSP rate raise, calling the increase “the largest in over a decade.”

“Our government will always take care of the most vulnerable, which is why we’re increasing ODSP rates by (five per cent),” Sean Forsyth said in a written statement.

“We’re also tying ODSP rates to inflation, helping people pay for life’s essentials, especially during periods of high inflation.”

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Forsyth’s statement also pointed to a tax credit the government is offering to low-income residents and families.

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Bethlenfalvy was asked earlier this month if the government would give the program a boost larger than five per cent in light of the already high inflation rate. He didn’t directly answer, saying the government has many tools to fight the rising cost of living.

Other political parties had pledged larger increases to the disability support program during the spring election.

The Green Party of Ontario had proposed doubling the payment rate and leader Mike Schreiner wrote to Ford last month asking him to make the same commitment.

Schreiner repeated his call in light of Monday’s open letter, saying it’s “shameful that people with disabilities are forced to live in legislated poverty” and describing Ford’s planned five per cent boost as an insufficient “campaign gimmick.”

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“I am urging the premier to listen to advocates and immediately double social assistance rates and tie all future increases to inflation,” he said in a written statement. “It would be shameful if he does not provide immediate and meaningful support to those most in need.”

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