Healing Gaia

Have a Heart on Family Day

The intention behind the ODSP was admirable. Unfortunately, it has evolved into a system that penalizes recipients and makes it extremely difficult to form long term relationships or support families.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published February 12, 2015

Since 2008, the third Monday in February has been Family Day in Ontario.

A nicely-timed break in our very long winters, Family Day gives us a chance to get out and have fun together. Many families will go skating, see a movie, visit the local art gallery or museum - especially if the cost of admission is reduced or free. It's a chance to share some hot chocolate or popcorn or have lunch out.

Well, that's not necessarily true if your parent is receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments.

The intention behind the ODSP was admirable. It was created to help people with disabilities in financial need pay for living expenses like housing, food and transportation. Unfortunately, it has evolved into a system that penalizes recipients and makes it extremely difficult to form long term relationships or support families.

ODSP rules state that if you are living with a spouse, your combined income and assets will be assessed to determine whether you qualify for financial assistance as a couple.

ODSP requires notification as soon as two adults move in together. After three months, they are asked for information that will be used to determine if the adults are a couple according to ODSP rules.

If it's decided they're partners, the couple is reassessed to determine if they still qualify for assistance. If one or both no longer qualify, assistance is terminated.

This process can be revisited at any time in the future, in case the nature of the relationship changes.

Under Ontario Family Law, you are considered common-law spouses after living together three years. Most federal laws and programs consider you common-law spouses after one year. (An Introduction to Family Law in Ontario, Community Legal Education Ont., Nov. 2012)

Yet ODSP considers you a couple after only three months. This quick money grab, put in place during the Harris government, needs to be repealed.

A couple in which both spouses are disabled receives $1,153 a month to cover basic needs. The maximum shelter allowance for two people is $729. That means the total monthly income for disabled couples should be $1,882.

However, ODSP rules [PDF] set a monthly maximum of $1,742 for couples, unless they qualify for additional supplements. The amount of income support couples receive is less than the total amount that they would get as individuals.

This rule penalizes disabled people who are or would like to become partners. It also fails to acknowledge that two disabled persons may have additional costs due to their individual disabilities. It's time to rescind this cap and provide basic needs as a straightforward doubling of the single person rate.

Someone receiving ODSP might decide to share accommodation with a roommate in order to afford better housing, more food or bus tickets. Well, that won't happen.

A single parent may try to reduce costs by sharing a place with another adult with no children. Both sign a lease as tenants. It would reasonable to split the rent two-thirds for the family, and one-third for the single adult.

ODSP rules state that each adult is expected to pay an equal share of the rent. The family on ODSP will be given the amount equal to one half the total monthly housing expense when they're actually paying two-thirds of the cost.

If they choose to continue this living arrangement, money will need to be diverted from food, transportation and other expenses to cover their housing costs.

If you're a single parent living on ODSP and you receive child support payments, ODSP will claw back the entire amount. The provincial government has suggested that it may allow lone parents to keep the first $200 of their child support each month and then claw back 50 percent.

If both parents are on ODSP, child support is deducted from the payor's monthly ODSP payments and clawed back from the parent who should be receiving child support. How does that benefit children living 29 percent below the poverty line?

From February 12 to February 17, please encourage social media users to send messages to the Minister of Community and Social Services through Twitter and Facebook @HelenaJaczek to #haveaheartODSP this family day!

After all, everyone deserves a little bread and roses.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted February 12, 2015 at 10:27:36

As automation and efficiency makes it harder for even educated people to find a place, I expect basic income will be visited as an idea in the future.

That type of a simplification has a lot of pluses going for it.

I don't think this generation stands a chance of seeing it, but perhaps the idea can begin to get discussed. If the Swiss aren't ready for it then the idea is indeed probably ahead of its time.

I know someone (many people probably do) stuck in the "welfare cliff", a talented individual with unique circumstances, who can't even sell a painting despite occasional opportunities. The people most vulnerable to ending up in this situation are often the least suited to complicated rules and penalties and paperwork requirements, and they want to do more and feel so stuck it is torture. True story.

If technology continues to advance at an accelerating pace, just a couple of generations from now we don't want this to happen. Maybe basic income will be an idea whose time does come.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2015-02-12 10:29:03

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted February 14, 2015 at 23:06:52

Doreen, thank you for this article. I have a few good friends on disability support payments but I didn't realize that the payments were so painfully inadequate.

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By Chris Angel (registered) | Posted February 15, 2015 at 17:29:28

"Under Ontario Family Law, you are considered common-law spouses after living together three years. Most federal laws and programs consider you common-law spouses after one year. (An Introduction to Family Law in Ontario, Community Legal Education Ont., Nov. 2012)

Yet ODSP considers you a couple after only three months. This quick money grab, put in place during the Harris government, needs to be repealed."

Good question why the hell hasn't this been repealed. How many successive liberal governments in Ontario will it take before it is or is the plan to continue to blame Mike Harris until nobody remembers who he was?

Liberal memories are short when it comes to betrayal so I will remind readers that Dalton McGuinty pledged to restore ODSP payments to previous levels and repeal the contentious combined income provisions. Of course he also promised no new taxes and then 3 weeks later brought in a user pay OHIP fee which amounted to the largest tax increase in Ontario history. He called it a health premium not a tax so it is all good. The 100's of millions wasted by the liberals in Caledonia, on the E-Health network,the gas plant relocation scandal and subsequent intentional deletion of related emails, the Ornge scandal. Billions of wasted dollars, cover ups and lies. These can't just be laid at McGuinty's feet Wynne's attempt to bribe Sudbury native Andrew Olivier speaks for itself as does her direct involvement in the gas plant relocation scandal. This is the most scandal plagued corrupt government in modern Ontario history.

This is not an endorsement of any other party. None of the other major parties can be depended on to change ODSP rates or regulations. It would likely take multiple terms for any other party to achieve the same staggering levels of corruption the liberals have attained but they will be equally as incompetent and disingenuous.

There is a huge problem in this province and most of North America. Economic stratification and loss of manufacturing jobs are forcing employment seekers into low paying service sector jobs often without benefits. As the number of working poor increase the economy slumps and more working poor are forced onto ODSP and other supports. This will only worsen. The only possibility of change is in the election of officials with ethical integrity. It is every citizens responsibility to look beyond political dogma and party lines and elect individuals with this rare attribute.

Comment edited by Chris Angel on 2015-02-15 17:36:02

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By abbeymanor (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2015 at 23:54:11

just a thought in regards to the ODSP
being a single parent, not by choice, but due to the child having disabilities
being on ODSP and being able to own my families home, which most ODSP families should have this option, the amount of ODSP is not enough, and my mortgage is more than the shelter allowance, so being single and seeing another adult on ODSP, being brutally taken advantage of, I offered a room to let, for $600.00 a month this includes, all utileties, tv, cable, internet, phone, and the use of the whole home.
ODSP will give that single, $600.00 to pay, me, the home owner, and turns around and says on the ODSP statement, that I have an income boarder, and reduces the allowance to my family, by, $357.00 so actually I receive $243.00 for this person to live in our home, this doesn't make any sense to me.
This is really stupid, the person will take longish showers 15 minutes, leave lights on
in the home,watch tv, and cook and leave dishes, and do loads of laundry all this is perfectly great and fine, and each person is entitled to have these I their life, but for ODSP to take $357.00 from my ODSP payment that is taking food from my special needs global delayed, autistic kid, who only eats fruits vegetables, cheeses, shephards pie, spaghetti, burgers, and pea soup and alpha getti, pb and banana, yogurt, chicken breast and mashed potato, and niblet corn, this is crazy bad shit. please assist and support, positively I am not on this damned stupid, poverty stricken, odsp bc I want to be, I am on it, bc I need to raise my developmentally delayed child, this is the only way, OW wont give us anything, and an apartment, a one bdrm in Ottawa is 1 thousand dollars.then what do I do

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By ODSP recipient (anonymous) | Posted August 04, 2015 at 16:51:36

Bullshit. ODSP singles get screwed over way more than families do, with a rental allowance maximum of 479 dollars/mo. You can't even get a bachelor apt in cheap Brantford for less than 625.

A family of 2 gets a max allowance for rent of 753, which is a bit more reasonable. You can easily find a 1 bedroom for that if you're a couple and it's not that bad finding a two bedroom, especially in cities like London, where they start at 629/mo. And you ARE allowed to share accomodations, and are supposed to get an allowance that reflects ONLY what you actually pay up to your maximum, PROVIDED YOU CAN OFFER SOME PROOF that that is what you pay. Without proof, yes, they may assume you pay 1/2...but if you are renting 2/3 available bedrooms and another adult is renting only one, who is going to assume they are paying half but not getting use of half? Easily appealed. 4

Couples have a different allowance than a unit of two other family members because it is ASSUMED that they will be sharing a bedroom, and thus have a lower rent to pay, which a parent and child will require 2 bedrooms, at a higher cost. Even then, if their respective disabilities require they have a bedroom each they can appeal for additional funds, just as parents with a disabled child requiring a separate bedroom can appeal for extra rental allowance.

Some of these assumptions are only in place to try to stop people shacking up with someone who is working while still getting their full benefits like a single with no other support.

Welfare and ODSP suck to be on, there's no doubt, but lets not make out it is worse than it actually is. Unless you have a worker who is an asshole and don't know how to appeal anything, it's not that bad for families and couples.

What I'm not looking forward to is the day that my youngest child moves out, which is the day I will go from humble but relative comfort to cramped and dismal basement squalor... unless I can meet someone to have a live in relationship with.

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