After increasing funding for people with disabilities in the run-up to June’s election following campaign pressure from advocacy groups, the Ford government is tabling more changes.
The province’s fall economic statement will dramatically increase the amount of money people claiming Ontario’s Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments can earn to supplement the benefit.
Under current rules, ODSP claimants are only allowed to earn a net amount $200 per month in exempt earnings. Changes outlined in the fall economic statement quintuple that amount to $1,000.
“For each dollar earned above $1,000, the person with a disability would keep 25 cents of income support,” the government’s fall spending plan explains.
Previous terms allowed ODSP recipients to keep 50 cents of income support for each dollar earned over $200.
However, it is unclear how many people receiving ODSP will actually see the benefits.
As of July, according to the Maytree Foundation, there were 378,145 people in Ontario’s disability support program; the government estimates around 25,000 ODSP recipients are currently working. The province also hopes an additional 25,000 will “participate in the workforce” as a result of the proposed changes.
In the province’s latest budget, the rate of ODSP was increased by five per cent — a campaign promise the Progressive Conservatives made ahead of June’s election following sustained pressure from advocacy groups.
Before that, ODSP rates had been frozen from 2018, when Doug Ford was first elected.
For years, a single person on ODSP was able to receive up to $1,169 a month for basic needs and shelter and earn $200 exempt per month.
That rate increased to $1,228 per month during the summer and, with the new changes, people will be able to earn an exempt $1,000 per month.
“These changes would allow the approximately 25,000 individuals currently in the workforce to keep more of their earnings and could encourage as many as 25,000 more to participate in the workforce,” the fall economic statement said.
The move, the document said, was part of an effort to address Ontario’s labour shortage.
Advocates, however, have been asking the province to dramatically raise the rate of ODSP in light of red-hot inflation and growing living costs, including rent and groceries.
In July, more than 200 advocacy groups signed a letter asking the Ontario government to double ODSP rates. The letter, written by the Income Security Advocacy Centre, said the five per cent hike was not sufficient.
“With continued inflation, and the associated increase in cost of living, five per cent is not nearly enough of a rate increase to survive,” the letter read.
It 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.
In its fall economic statement, the province also said it planned to “improve the disability eligibility determination processes, which along with other system changes are intended to reduce the time individuals are waiting to get a decision.”
This, the government said, would streamline assessment and connect applicants faster.