Thursday, June 30, 2011

My thoughts concerning Ontario's Social Assistance Review: Part 2

Today I would like to share with you a few of the recommendations found in a report completed by the ODSP Action Coalition entitled "Dignity, Adequacy, Inclusion: Rethinking the Ontario Disability Support Program". Currently in the Province of Ontario our Government is completing a Review of our Social Assistance programs which won't be completed until June of 2012. Since the ODSP Action Coalition exists to help raise awareness of issues affecting people recieving ODSP their aim is to advocate for those with disabilities who are in need income support so they wanted to get involved in Ontario's Social Assistance Review. They recently released the "Dignity, Adequacy, Inclusion: Rethinking the Ontario Disability Support Program" report to help encourage positive change. In their report they go on to say that they are hopeful about the government’s Social Assistance Review because of the opportunity to address fundamental problems with income support policies for persons with disabilities, and for others who require financial assistance. The coalition has made many submissions to government on particular regulation and policy changes that would improve the experience of recipients.

In a few of my past blog posts I have spoken about some of my issues concerning the Ontario Disability Supports Program and their treatment of marriage and spousal income. The best way for me to help you fully understand the issues with ODSP and its treatment of marriage is to share with you the facts and a few of the recommendations that have been submitted by the ODSP Action Coalition to the Commission in charge of the Review of Social Assistance here in Ontario.

ODSP's treatment of Earnings from Spouses:

Spousal earnings are clawed back under current ODSP regulations. This forces non-disabled or working spouses to assume the full financial responsibility of the person with a disability, sometimes including extremely costly medication and health care needs. In many cases, the treatment of spousal earnings ensures that families cannot earn enough income to escape poverty. This burden compromises the independence of people with disabilities and also weakens the capacity of the family unit overall to achieve and maintain an adequate standard of living and greater economic security. ODSP applicants are unduly burdened with requirements to access financial information from their spouse. This is not always possible when spouses are unwilling to comply. The security of people with disabilities should not be tied to the compliance of another party to ODSP rules and regulations. Similarly, the economic security of the whole family unit should not be vulnerable to program rules specific to the person with a disability.

The Coalition has proposed that the benefit unit be changed from the family to the individual; this would mean the earnings of spouses would not affect the income support and health benefits of the person with a disability.

Recommendation: Changing to an individual benefit unit rather than basing eligibility for ODSP on family income would be the ideal solution to this problem.

ODSP and the treatment of the Benefit Unit

ODSP benefit payments are made on behalf of families rather than individuals. Structuring the benefit unit in this way has many negative consequences for people who receive ODSP. It means that ODSP administrators are in the position of deciding under what circumstances two adults constitute a family; a practice the Social Assistance Review Advisory Council identified as one of several that are “stigmatizing and robs recipients of their dignity and control of their own lives.”

It also means that people with disabilities are not able to have economic independence from spouses or other family members. They must access the financial resources of their spouses prior to being eligible for benefits. Spouses and family members are negatively impacted by the costs of disability, further limiting their own efforts to achieve financial security and independence.

People receiving ODSP have described how the present benefit unit penalizes those who live with a spouse and prevents many from forming new relationships that would be beneficial to their health and wellbeing, because a potential partner is unable or unwilling to assume full support for the person with a disability.

Recommendation: The benefit unit for ODSP should be the individual recipient rather than the family, with the proviso that the children of recipients are fully supported either through a significantly increased Ontario Child Benefit or through an income supplement delivered through ODSP.

Please remember with your support and a bit of effort we can improve the lives of those living with disabilities who depend on income Support from the Ontario Disabilities Supports Program!

You can visit the ODSP Action Coalition at: http://www.odspaction.ca/




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