Failing Grade for the Ontario Disability Support Program

Report by Kyle Vose
Agency Co-Chair ODSP Action Coalition @ODSPaction
Message from September 28th, 2021 Queens Park – #Rally4ODSP

My name is Kyle Vose and I am the agency chair of the ODSP Action Coalition. We are here today representing Ontario residents with disabilities struggling to survive on meagre monthly social assistance benefits, like many of you out there and many of us up here.

As part of the Rally4ODSP today, we’re happy to share some results from our first ODSP Report Card Rally.  Using our non-scientific survey, we asked folks across Ontario, including many living with disabilities and those who support us, to rate various aspects of the Ontario Disability Support Program.  

Of the 750-plus folks who opted-into our survey over the past couple of months: 60% identified as a person living with a disability on ODSP, with 55% living in an urban area, 24% in a suburb, and 20% in a rural area. This geographic spread is important to keep in mind when considering the availability of programs and services such as Food Banks, transportation, medical services and access to their assigned ODSP office.    

When asked to grade the Basic Allowance amount folks receive each month: Unsurprisingly, 76% of you gave it an F.    Folks also gave the so-called Shelter Allowance a resounding F.  

When we asked what portion of their monthly income went towards rent: 

The average amount paid by ALL respondents was around 66%, over twice the recommended amount. 47% of respondents told us they resided in Private Market Rentals, including 6% who indicated that 100% of their monthly income went towards rent. 

Only 25% told us they lived in some type of subsidized/RGI housing, a stark reminder of the critical shortage of such housing options. Also, 19% lived in a group home setting and 8% were homeowners. 7% of those asked were currently experiencing homelessness.  

When we asked what were some things not covered by the Shelter Allowance that should be: answers included: the actual cost of rent, some utilities, essential furniture, heaters, humidifiers, air conditioners, renter’s insurance, high-speed internet, repairs and property taxes or water bills (for homeowners). Some also asked if there was a benefit to help with the cost related to moving, pest control or leaving a shelter?

Regarding the Remote Community Allowance, 13% of respondents reported living in a remote community and they graded the program an F.  Many living in remote communities still lack clean drinking water, coupled with the high cost of food in these regions, and a lack of social or community supports.

You gave the Ontario Drug Benefit a solid C.  There are still issues with this program as many drugs are not covered or there’s too many forms to send in to get a particular medication not on the provinces formulary.   Some essentials not covered that folks feel should be include diabetic strips, vitamins/minerals, over the counter ointments, drops, and medical cannabis.

You gave Dental Benefits an F: Many weren’t even aware of the program, or were told incorrect information about what’s covered. Basic services are covered but not things like crowns, mouth guards, partials, etc. We were told that many dentists won’t even treat ODSP patients because the province does not adequately cover their costs.  

15% of respondents told us they were in receipt of the Work Related Benefit and gave it an F.  Many find this program discouraging as it’s impossible to get ahead due to clawbacks, and this benefit barely covers the cost of a transit pass. 22% didn’t even know the Work Related Benefit existed.

When asked about the COVID-19 “ODSP Emergency Benefit” that ran for merely four months last year: 44% said they received the benefit, 25% said they didn’t receive it, and 13% found out about it after it ended. 17% never even heard of it before completing the survey. Of course, you graded this benefit a well-deserved F.

The well-deserved F also was also applied to the province’s overall handling of the pandemic response for people living with disabilities.

When we asked folks to grade their ODSP caseworker overall, 18% gave an A, which was nice to see, however 24% gave their worker an F.  Of course we know we have some good workers, some over-worked workers, and unfortunately some ineffective workers.  

When asked to grade their caseworker’s availability to them, most gave a F.  Some issues include the number of days it took for one’s worker to return their calls, the frequency at which their worker was switched without the clients’ knowledge, failing to accommodate a person’s disability, and being hesitant to contact their caseworker for fear of being cut off the program.  When we asked clients if they feel their caseworker received adequate training, 50% said they were unsure. 

On communication from the Ministry or from their worker, most folks graded that an F, with some emphasis surrounding the digital form letter used to communicate and unclear communications  with regard to overpayments.

Despite the province’s “Digital First Strategy” only 30% of respondents indicated they were enrolled in the ODSP “MyBenefits” portal, 46% said they were not, and 22% were not sure. The low uptake can be directly attributed to folks being unable to afford hardware and Wi-Fi, which is why we desperately need some type of monthly Digital Allowance. Many reported having issues uploading income reports and communicating with their worker through the portal.  

When asked how they would grade the following statement: “Right now, I feel positive about the state of ODSP under the current provincial government” 75% gave it an F. In other words, folks aren’t feeling too positive about it!  

ODSP Action Coalition want to send a big thank-you to the hundreds of folks who responded to our survey and shared their experiences with us. If we read all the comments we received, we’d be here all day, but here’s a few more:

“Many want to be treated with respect and (want the province to) stop making them feel dehumanized, degraded and treated awful!”  Don’t discriminate and increase ODSP benefits bring this community out of poverty.”  “Mr. Ford it is time to increase the amount those receiving ODSP. As you very well know that we are living way below the poverty line!! It is time for your government to wake up and do something good for those less fortunate!!! Give us some of our dignity back and raise the amount ODSP recipients receive to at least to the poverty line or higher. We can’t go on like this, constantly struggling to keep food on the table and shelter over our heads!! We didn’t choose to have disabilities and we deserve to be treated better than what your government has done!”

We remind this provincial government that they campaigned on the slogan “For the People”. We are here to tell them that as Ontarians Living with Disabilities we ARE “People” too.  With social assistance rates frozen since 2018 while costs continue to spiral upwards, we are being left behind by this government and we want to know, when do they plans to address these issues. How much longer do they plan to keep rates frozen as inflation erodes them to nothing.  We want to know how this government can sleep at night knowing that they are keeping our community in poverty, and in four years has failed to address any of these issues!

Image Below is of the 2021 Rally4ODSP Organizing Committee all wearing masks:  Front row seated Anthony Frisina, Back standing are Sherry Caldwell, Kyle Vose, Andrea Hatala and Catherine Manson. We are holding up rally signs that read, NO ONE LEFT BEHIND with the ODC logo, The ODSP Action Coalition logo with the graded ODSP report card below. Another sign next to Anthony reads Build Back Better, A Disability Inclusion Revolution.  Last rally sign reads F your Failing I'm a person too.

Featured Image at the top of this blog shows Hannah Klein holding up a poster which is a Report Card prop used to display the grades for each individual benefit within ODSP. Hannah held up the sign while Kyle delivered a passionate speech.

Bottom Featured Image at the bottom is of the 2021 Rally4ODSP Organizing Committee all wearing masks: Front row seated Anthony Frisina, Back standing are Sherry Caldwell, Kyle Vose, Andrea Hatala and Catherine Manson. We are holding up rally signs that read, NO ONE LEFT BEHIND with the ODC logo, The ODSP Action Coalition logo with the graded ODSP report card below. Another sign next to Anthony reads Build Back Better, A Disability Inclusion Revolution. Last rally sign reads F your Failing I’m a person too.

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