SUMMARY - Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services Social Assistance Reform

On November 22, 2018, Minister of MCCSS Lisa McLeod, announced her government’s plans to reform social assistance in Ontario. Below summary of highlights and what TAEH will be watching for as the government rolls out its plan.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM ANNOUNCEMENT:

  • There were few actual details provided on what social assistance will look like.

  • One change for TAEH to watch is the redefining of the provincial definition of disability under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)) to more closely align with the federal definition.  There is widespread concern that this will result in a definition that excludes too many people who are in fact experiencing significant disability.

  • Some encouraging changes to the overall program structure and delivery signaled last month, included:

o   A more integrated, locally-driven systems approach (for both First Nations and municipalities) to the delivery of social assistance with employment training and other supports;

o   The recognition that clients must be included in developing a plan towards sustained employment through an individual action plan – one developed in partnership with a case worker that has time to talk and build a relationship with each client.  The information shared on November 22 indicates that these plans will include all the supports a person requires, in a “wrap-around” fashion, including child care, rent supplements etc.;

o   A focus on developing local skills and job training for the jobs that are actually needed in each community – not just the rote set of workshops everyone must currently participate in, regardless of fit with local economies;

o   For those that qualify for the new ODSP, an annual income benefit with eligibility test instead of the current monthly one in place; and

o   A commitment to a gradual, informed implementation process. 

WHAT WE’LL BE WATCHING FOR:

1.       How the future details and developments of the new social assistance program meets the commitment to compassion, meaningful supports and true local integration voiced in November.  This includes compassionate support for those unable to participate in the workforce.  As well, it means meaningful support for those that can work.  It’s also encouraging to know that those currently receiving ODSP will be grand-parented.  We still need to stay tuned for future details in both areas going forward. 

2.       What impact this reform will, and could, have on the ability of people receiving benefits to afford and keep good housing.  This includes:

o   What the next steps are for working with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in contributing to the new program.

o   Will these steps include a bold, responsive portable housing benefit?  Will the newly signed bi-lateral agreement with the federal government under the National Housing Strategy be used strategically to create a portable housing benefit that is deep enough to actually allow people to finally have affordable, safe and adequate housing?

o   Will the new social assistance benefits harmonize the shelter allowance and the general needs portion to allow individuals and families more flexibility and direction in how they use their benefits each month?

3.       What will the future rates for both OW and ODSP be?  What will alignment with the federal government’s definition of disability mean? What will be the eligibility requirements and will there be time limits on how long a person can receive benefits?

This is a conversation that requires real, deep consultation. This is an area of considerable risk in the Minister’s announcement, and while it is encouraging that no sudden changes were announced, we must have a chance to constructively contribute to final decisions.  This includes multi-sector consultations – with all affected, especially people with lived experience.

4.       What will “removing barriers between local service systems” look like in the end, and how will we get there?  Transforming Employment Ontario (EO) and OW to achieve better systems integration is long overdue, but what will be the unintended consequences?   Success here depends on resourcing local level collaboration to drive results, and ensuring an orderly transition to make good on the compassionate support promised on November 22.

5.       We cannot underscore enough the importance of gradual implementation, along with an emphasis on minimal or no disruption.  The Ontario government has to get this right.  Using pilots and deep consultation are both good ideas.

It is serious work to manage transformation or change to achieve the stated desired results.  Minister MacLeod and her team must take the time to do it well and engage with people and others with expertise, with history, with lived experience and with new ideas.

CONCLUSION:

The future of how this government puts into practice its stated commitments to be compassionate and to help those most vulnerable achieve success will be tested.

Ontario – meaning our government and all of us - need to continue to invest in people, in the spectrum of their needs and aspirations.  There can be no going back on that.

RESOURCES

Ontario Government
Media Release - https://news.ontario.ca/mcys/en/2018/11/ontarios-government-for-the-people-announces-plan-to-restore-dignity-independence-and-empowerment-to.html

Backgrounder - https://news.ontario.ca/mcys/en/2018/11/reforming-social-assistance.html

OW and ODSP info - https://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/MCSS/programs/social/index.aspx

Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC)

Webinar- https://yourlegalrights.on.ca/resource/changes-social-assistance-what-was-announced-what-it-means-and-what-s-next

Post -  https://incomesecurity.org/public-education/working-while-on-ow-what-minister-macleods-changes-to-income-deductions-would-mean/

Backgrounder - Earned-income-exemption-changes-Ontario-Works-Dec-2018-updated.pdf

Summary - https://incomesecurity.org/public-education/many-questions-few-answers-and-great-risk-for-people-with-disabilities/

Media

CBC Radio Interview with Kira Heineck, TAEH Executive Lead - http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1378166851903/

CBC Radio Interview with Philip Dufresne and Victor Willis - https://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/metro-morning