Social Assistance in the Ontario Budget
The following section is taken from the Ontario Budget presented May 2nd.
Responding to the Lankin-Sheikh Commission
The Commission's recommendations provide strong advice on transforming services, benefits and delivery of social assistance in Ontario. In 2013–14, the government will take initial steps to implement key recommendations from the Commission's report. These changes will help recipients keep more of what they earn, move into jobs and improve their financial security. These initial changes will also set the stage for long-term transformation of social assistance, as a cornerstone of the new Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Successful transformation will take time to achieve. The government will start discussions with recipients, municipalities, delivery partners and others to set priorities and work through the choices required for transformation.
The government will also engage in separate and substantive discussions with First Nation communities to ensure their needs are properly understood and appropriately addressed.
"In these challenging economic times, some may be tempted to say that social assistance is not a priority, or that we cannot afford even to start down the path of reform. We could not disagree more. With labour shortages looming, helping everyone achieve their potential is simply the right thing to do — for individual Ontarians, for business, for the provincial economy and for a government seeking to secure future sources of revenue."
Business Advisory Panel on Income Security Reform, October 2012.
Helping Social Assistance Recipients into Employment
Removing barriers and increasing opportunities for everyone to participate in the workforce is good for the economy, as it provides the labour market with underutilized talent. This includes people with disabilities who may have the capacity and aspiration for employment, but are lacking the supports they need for success.
"For most of us, a multitude of benefits flows from finding a good job or productively contributing to our communities: increased independence, a sense of wellbeing, new networks, further opportunities, and the ability to plan for the future. For people who are able to work, employment is also a key route to escaping poverty. This is why the focus of our review was on removing barriers and increasing opportunities for people to work."
Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, "Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario," October 2012.
Ontario Works and ODSP recipients will be able to keep the first $200 of employment earnings each month before their social assistance benefits are reduced. This change will reduce barriers to employment and give social assistance recipients better support for gaining access to employment. Introducing a $200 monthly earnings exemption will make it easier for those recipients who face multiple barriers to employment to gain an initial foothold in the labour force. It will also significantly improve the incomes of 57,000 recipients who currently have employment earnings.
Effective September 2013
•Social assistance benefits are reduced by 50 cents for every dollar of employment earnings
•The earnings exemption will allow for up to $200 per month of employment earnings before social assistance benefits are reduced.
•Every dollar of employment earnings above $200 will reduce social assistance benefits by 50 cents.
Improving Employment-Related Benefits
Currently, social assistance programs offer a myriad of benefits to help recipients prepare for and obtain employment. The Commission recognized that each benefit has unique eligibility rules that add unnecessary complexity to the system. The government will work with partners to develop a simpler, more flexible benefit structure that is effective in helping people get the employment support they need.
Income from Self-Employment
Self-employment has been a growing part of the labour market and represents an important alternative to traditional employment for some social assistance recipients. Effective September 2013, the government will remove barriers for Ontario Works recipients who want to pursue self-employment by treating such income the same as employment earnings. With this change, self-employment income will be treated the same in both the Ontario Works and ODSP programs.
Earnings of Full-Time High School Students
Currently, postsecondary and most high school students under the age of 18 are able to keep their earnings from part-time employment. To encourage more students to graduate from high school, the government will harmonize rules so that more high school students in families receiving social assistance are able to keep their earnings from part-time employment. These changes, effective September 2013, will mean that full-time high school students over the age of 18 will not be penalized if they work part time.
Integrating Employment and Training Services
The Commission found that social assistance recipients, and others at risk of becoming dependent on social assistance, need better access to integrated training and employment services to achieve better employment outcomes.
Improving access to training and employment services for social assistance recipients is part of the government's plan announced in the 2012 Budget to integrate employment and training services across government. To support this plan, the government will engage municipalities, First Nation communities and employment service providers on better ways to link social assistance recipients to Employment Ontario.
Engaging with Employers and Other Partners
The government will work closely with the private sector, delivery partners and people who have first-hand experience receiving social assistance or living in poverty. This work will focus on improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities and other social assistance recipients facing multiple barriers to employment.
The Province has announced that the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario will move from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. This will allow the government to better work with Ontario's businesses, organizations and communities to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
The government will also work with corporate leaders to establish a Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities, to champion the hiring of people with disabilities.
In addition, the government is engaging with employers and service delivery partners in a series of roundtables to improve social assistance employment services and supports for those who are able to work, and to better connect clients, including people with disabilities, to the workforce.
"Social assistance as it is now sidelines people with disabilities and condemns too many people to a life of poverty and isolation. We heard from recipients across the province that they want to work, and are able to work, but they need the right support to reach their goals. Putting people on a path to a better life reduces poverty and strengthens our communities, contributing to greater economic prosperity for all Ontarians."
Frances Lankin, Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario news release, October 24, 2012.
"Transformational change will take time but there are priority steps that can happen now, including moving quickly to establish a Provincial Partnership with corporate leaders to champion the hiring of people with disabilities. Throughout the review we engaged with corporate leaders who are already taking action to improve the employment prospects of people with disabilities, and are willing to partner with the government to achieve real change. This early win, combined with other initiatives to support people with disabilities, could have dramatic results."
Munir A. Sheikh, Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario news release, October 24, 2012.
Improving Financial Security
The transition to work can be made easier for social assistance recipients by improving their financial security, which increases their ability to deal with adversity. Greater financial security also promotes greater independence and stability. As initial steps, the government is increasing benefit rates and will simplify and harmonize some of the system's complex rules.
Increasing Benefit Rates
Since the government took office in 2003, social assistance rates have increased by about 15 per cent. This year, the government will increase social assistance rates by one per cent for adult Ontario Works recipients and people with disabilities receiving ODSP benefits.
The Commission identified as a priority the need to increase rates for Ontario Works single adults without children, a group that experiences the lowest incomes among social assistance recipients. As an initial step, single Ontario Works adults without children will receive an additional top-up of $14 per month. With both the top-up and the one per cent increase, these recipients will receive an increase of $20 per month, or more than three per cent.
Combined, these changes will improve the incomes of all recipients and begin to reduce the disparity in rates between ODSP and Ontario Works recipients. Social assistance rate increases will take effect in September 2013 for ODSP and in October 2013 for Ontario Works.
The Commission also recommended the development of benchmarks to support a consistent method for setting social assistance rates in the future. The government will begin the information collection and analysis necessary to develop these benchmarks.
The government will consider other recommendations of the Commission as it continues to pursue social assistance transformation.
Increasing Ontario Works Asset Limits
The limits for liquid assets2, including cash, will increase for single adults receiving Ontario Works from $606 to $2,500, and from $1,043 to $5,000 for couples. Currently, individuals must deplete most of their assets to qualify for Ontario Works. Higher asset limits will help recipients become more financially secure and are an initial step towards aligning asset limits in Ontario Works and ODSP. This change will take effect in September 2013.
The changes to asset limits will also be evaluated to determine their impact on the number of people accessing social assistance and leaving social assistance with improved financial resources.
Simplifying Asset Rules
The government will remove the restriction on the value of a primary vehicle so that Ontario Works recipients can retain a vehicle they may need for employment. Under current rules, Ontario Works recipients are restricted to owning a primary vehicle valued at less than $10,000. This change will also harmonize Ontario Works and ODSP rules regarding the value of a primary vehicle.
First Nation and northern communities administering Ontario Works will have greater flexibility to determine which assets recipients should be able to keep without impacting their eligibility for social assistance. Low-income people living in First Nation and northern communities face unique challenges in improving self-sufficiency. Social assistance rules must be flexible enough so that recipients can make use of assets, such as snowmobiles, boats and hunting equipment, to participate in cultural activities and pursue employment.
Ontario Works recipients will be allowed to receive gifts of up to $6,000 per year. This change will help improve the financial stability of Ontario Works recipients and will align Ontario Works and ODSP rules on allowable gifts.
Changes to asset rules will take effect in September 2013.
Posted May 2, 2013
Update on Additions to the Special Diet Allowance
The Special Diet Allowance (SDA) helps eligible Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipients with the extra costs of a special diet for an approved medical condition that
** is generally considered by the Ontario medical community to be an adjuvant to the treatment of the medical condition, and
** results in additional costs above a normal, healthy diet.
Additional Medical Conditions that may be Considered for the SDA
A recent update from the Income Security and Advocacy Centre (ISAC) gives more details at
• Pre-diabetes is now considered in the definition for diabetes.
• Because of the legal efforts of ISAC Prader Willi Syndrome and unintended weight loss from Renal Failure have also been added to the Special Diet List.
• As of January 25, 2013 Hepatitis C has been added but only for those with a Body mass Index that is equal to lower than 25. (ISAC advises to go to http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Assess-Yourself/Assess-Your-BMI/BMI-Adult.aspx calculate your body mass index.)
Need Help Applying?
If you need help applying for the special Diet Allowance in Hamilton you can contact us. Outside Hamilton you can find your local legal clinic at www.legalaid.on.ca/en/locate/default.asp.
Posted March 6, 2013
A bill was introduced in the Ontario Legislature in June 2007 that articulated a process to set up a board that would determine appropriate social assistance rates. The content of the bill follows below.
Bill 235 2007
Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario, enacts as follows:
1. In this Act, “benefit unit” means a person and all of his or her dependants on behalf of whom the person receives or applies for social assistance; (“groupe de prestataires”)
“Board” means the Ontario Social Assistance Rates Board established under section 2; (“Commission”)
“Minister” means the Minister of Community and Social Services; (“ministre”)
“social assistance” means,
(a) income support under the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, 1997, and
(b) basic financial assistance under the Ontario Works Act, 1997. (“aide sociale”)
2. A Board to be known in English as the Ontario Social Assistance Rates Board and in French as Commission ontarienne des taux d’aide sociale is hereby established.
Composition of Board
3. (1) The Board shall be composed of at least six and not more than nine members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
(2) The members shall be persons who have, in the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, expertise in poverty research and current research regarding the costs of living in Ontario communities.
(3) In addition to the qualifications set out in subsection (2),
(a) at least two of the members shall be persons who have, in the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, expertise regarding the costs of living for disabled persons in Ontario communities; and
(b) at least two of the members shall be persons who have received social assistance at some time within the 10-year period before being appointed or are receiving social assistance at the time of their appointment.
(4) A member shall be appointed for a term of two, three or five years.
Chair and vice-chair
(5) The Lieutenant Governor in Council shall designate one of the members as chair and may designate one or more other members as vice-chair.
Remuneration and expenses
4. The members of the Board who are not members of the public service of Ontario may be paid the remuneration fixed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and the reasonable expenses incurred in the course of their duties under this Act.
Powers of Board
5. (1) Except as limited by this Act, the Board has all the powers that are necessary or expedient for carrying out its duties under this Act.
(2) The Board may retain experts as it considers necessary from time to time.
6. (1) The Board shall provide an annual report in accordance with this Act to the Minister on or before December 31 in every year.
(2) The Board shall perform the duties that are assigned to it by or under this Act.
(3) The Board shall meet at least six times annually for the purpose of preparing the annual report.
(4) In addition to the report described in subsection (1), the Board shall provide additional reports and information about adequate standards of living to the Minister on request.
Contents of annual report
7. (1) The annual report shall include a list of defined regions identified by the Board on the basis of different costs of living in different parts of the Province.
(2) The annual report shall include recommended social assistance rates and processes for providing social assistance for each region identified under subsection (1), including consideration of,
(a) monthly basic needs rates at a set amount that will enable benefit units to obtain,
(i) nutritious food baskets,
(ii) basic telephone service,
(iii) basic transportation,
(iv) personal needs items, including clothing, personal hygiene products and household cleaning supplies,
(v) items and services relating to the educational and recreational needs of any children,
(vi) any necessary modifications to a rental unit in order to accommodate any disability,
(vii) additional expenses that may be incurred by persons with disabilities in order for them to participate fully in society, including expenses relating to education, over the counter medical goods, entertainment and clothing, and
(viii) other basic goods and services to fulfil needs specified by the Board as basic;
(b) maximum monthly shelter allowance rates, including reference to,
(i) Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation research on local rents,
(ii) any other research that the Board considers relevant regarding local rents and shelter expenses, including utilities, heating costs, furnace or hot water tank rentals, property taxes and fire insurance, and
(iii) separate recommendations regarding housing that is modified for disabled persons;
(c) the level of benefits to be provided to benefit units under the Ontario Works Act, 1997;
(d) the level of benefits to be provided to benefit units under the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, 1997;
(e) other statutory benefits that are actually received by benefit units, including the Ontario Child Benefit;
(f) the fact that many recipients of social assistance under the Ontario Works Act, 1997 are, for extended periods of time, unable to supplement their income through employment; and
(g) the fact that many recipients of social assistance under the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, 1997 are, due to the long-term nature of many disabilities, unable to supplement their income through employment.
(3) The Board shall consider the rates set under the Ontario Works Act, 1997 and the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, 1997 and may recommend changes to those rates.
Variation in rates
(4) The regional rates recommended in subsection (2) shall be uniform within each region but may differ between regions.
8. (1) On or before March 31 in every year, the Minister shall publish a report responding to the Board’s recommendations in the annual report and shall set out a timeline for dealing with the recommendations.
(2) The Minister shall submit any reports received from the Board to the Lieutenant Governor in Council and shall then lay them before the Assembly if it is in session or, if not, at the next session.
Annual report made public
(3) The Minister shall make the annual report available to the public within 90 days of receiving the report.
9. (1) Subject to subsection (2), this Act comes into force on the day it receives Royal Assent.
(2) Sections 1 to 8 come into force six months after the day this Act receives Royal Assent.
10. The short title of this Act is the Ontario Social Assistance Rates Act, 2007.
The Bill establishes the Ontario Social Assistance Rates Board, which has the function of providing specific recommendations annually regarding social assistance rates under the Ontario Works Act, 1997and the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, 1997.
Posted January 10, 2013