Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My thoughts concerning Ontario's Social Assistance Review

Starting in January of 2011 and ending in June of 2012 the Government of Ontario Canada plans to complete a full review of Ontario’s Social Assistance program. As a young man living with a disability who currently depends on income support from the Ontario Disability Supports Program this study is very important to me. As many of you might already know in just the last few years I have faced many challenges related to the lack of income support provided to me through the Ontario Disability Supports Program. This resulting from the Ontario Disability Supports Program being set up to punish those who get married while on ODSP. Since the day of my marriage from time to time I have seen my income support reduced by almost 95% resulting in financial hardship. Eventually after seeing my income support reduced so drastically I went through the Employment Supports Program then became employed at a local call centre which after some time resulted in a work related injury in the form of Tendonitis.

In this my first post concerning Ontario’s Social Assistance Review I wanted to take the time to share a bit about my experience of being on the Ontario Disability Supports Program then having to become employed and ending up with a work related injury. I tell my story in hopes that when the Social Assistance Review is completed in June of 2012 that the recommended changes result in better treatment of those with disabilities in the work place.
With this post I aim to tell the story about my experiences and make more people aware of the treatment I received from various Provincial and Federal Government Agencys that are suppose to be there to help me.

You see for many years I received income support from the Ontario Disability Supports Program, eventually I married only to see my income support drop by almost 95%. The Ontario Government drastically reduces the income support of those who marry while on ODSP resulting in removing any possibility of that individual of ever being able to be an equal partner in the marriage. After getting married and seeing my income support reduced so drastically I had to find employment since I was being put in a bad situation thanks to the Ontario Disability Supports Program and its policy to punishing people who marry. After a year of looking for suitable employment with the assistance of the Employment Supports Program and a local employment agency I was soon lined up with a job at a local call centre. When I first started the job life was great, I was making a pretty good living but it didn’t take long for things changed. Eventually I ended up with Tendonitis an injury that my doctors told me is commonly seen in people who work at call centres. At first my employer neglected to report my injury to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), surprisingly my injury was reported 3 months later resulting in the WSIB refusing to cover any lost income for days missed related to the injury. And surprisingly my first interaction with the WSIB wasn’t a pleasant one for some reason I was treated very poorly, I was really shocked by the lack of professionalism. Long story short the WSIB did chose to cover my physiotherapy but the second it didn’t seem to be working I was sent to meet with specialists who work for the WSIB. These doctors reviewed my case and came to the conclusion that the Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy was to blame for the injury. At that point I was sent a letter telling me that I was being cut off since my injury is not believed to be work related but was believed to be the result of my current medical condition. In the end the WSIB blamed my tendonitis on me having Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy. As you can understand the decision the WSIB made really put me in bad situation.

Sadly during this time my employer refused to put forth any effort into finding me suitable employment with in the company. At times I was even treated very poorly by the HR department at work who claimed that I use my disability as an excuse too much. Eventually due to poor treatment at work I left the job, and soon after that I applied for Employment Insurance (EI) which I had paid into for the past 5 years and I was denied benefits simply due to the fact that I had been on modified duties and did work enough hours to qualify. So at that time I had to re-apply for income support from the Ontario Disability Supports Program which was approved after 2 months. Through all of this I have come to the conclusion that the WSIB and the Employment Insurance (EI) programs are currently not set up to deal with the needs of those with disabilities in the work place. Another program available to those in Canada who were injured on the job or who have prolonged disabilities that it makes it hard for them to find employment is something called CPP Disability. You see almost every employed Canadian pays into the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) and a small amount is deducted from every pay cheque they receive. Eventually I decided to apply for CPP Disability but found out I didn’t qualify for it since I had only been working for 5 years. To qualify for CPP Disability you have to work at least 6 years and work a certain amount of hours per week to have it deducted from your pay cheque. Since my last two years of employment were spent working reduced hours on modified duties CPP was no longer being deducted from my pay. I really believe some thing needs to change, since some people with disabilities can only work part time hours I consider it unfair to not allow them to qualify for EI and CPP Disability simply because they can’t work full time hours. Both of these programs need to be changed to better accommodate the needs of those with living disabilities.

I believe any review of Ontario’s Social Assistance program must also include suggestions for improvement of all Federal and Provincial programs that are set up to assist those who become employed. What happened to me was wrong, the only mistake I ever made during this time was not appealing the WSIB’s decision when it came to my injury. This is why I would suggest to anyone with a disability who is injured on the job to appeal decisions that affect you in a negative way. Sure they might just deny you, and like me they might even blame your disability for your injury, if they do please appeal their findings as soon as possible. It is you right to challenge any decisions they make concerning any work related injury.

When it comes to the issues of the Ontario Disability Support Program and the Review of Ontario’s Social Assistance Program I really hope that it results in some major changes in the way employed people with disabilities are treated. If the Ontario Disability Supports Program is going offer employment supports to people with disabilities then every Government service should be set up to handle their specific needs with understanding and respect.

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  1. The major problem with ODSP is it is run like Ontario welfare system and those with disabilities fall under the same qualifications. Benefits are determined by household income and your assets.

    The system keeps the disabled in perpetual poverty!

    Everyone with a disability or friends of those with disabilities must get involved:

    • Get involved with the “public input” with the review of Ontario’s Social Assistance program;

    • Contact your local MPP and tell them how you feel;

    • Ask candidates in the upcoming Ontario election where they stand on this issue.

    Federally, the current government is moving away from needed CCP reforms. Instead they are moving to a private system administered by for profit financial institutions.

    With the impending Federal election this spring, push your candidates to look at the necessary CCP reforms.

    It’s our future, so get involved!


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  3. Ontario's Social Assistance Review

    Rebecca MacKenzie
    Minister's Office
    Rebecca.MacKenzie@ontario.ca (might work)