In November 2018, the provincial government announced a number of reforms to Ontario’s social assistance programs, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, with the intention of helping recipients break the cycle of poverty.
As two-thirds of food bank clients cite social assistance as their primary source of income, reforms to these programs can have a significant impact on food banks. This report discusses the history of social assistance in Ontario and the impact that previous changes to the system have had on poverty and food insecurity in this province, and analyzes the proposed reforms. In summary, this analysis found that while the reforms included a number of improvements to the current set of policy directives, some of the changes are cause for concern:
- Ontario Works: Despite the proposed increase to earnings exemptions from $200 to $300, the corresponding increase in clawbacks to subsequent earnings from 50 to 75 percent would leave recipients with less net income compared to the current system after working more than 8 hours per week at minimum wage, making it more difficult to move ahead
- Ontario Disability Support Program: The proposed alignment of the program’s definition of disability with the federal guidelines may exclude individuals with episodic disabilities (such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease) from accessing the support they need
To avoid these problems, Feed Ontario recommends the Government of Ontario:
- Maintain the earnings-related clawbacks at 50 percent
- Retain ODSP’s current definition of disability
In addition, to ensure that more Ontarians do not have to make the difficult choices between necessities like food and shelter, Feed Ontario recommends the provincial government invests into the development of more affordable housing and a portable housing benefit.
You can help #FeedChange and support people in need across Ontario by taking action on social assistance reform!
How Can I Participate?
- Contact: Call, email, or visit your MPP and ask them to support our recommendations around social assistance reform.
- Social Media: Post our shareables and tag us on Twitter Link opens a new window or Facebook Link opens a new window so we can boost it, as well as your MPP.
Who Should I Contact?
- Your Own MPP: Find your riding and MPP’s contact information at Elections Ontario Link opens a new window.
- Other Key MPPs: Premier Doug Ford (@FordNation Link opens a new window), Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Lisa MacLeod (@MacLeodLisa Link opens a new window), and Parliamentary Assistant for Community and Social Services, Belinda Karahalios (@KarahaliosPC Link opens a new window)
Feed Ontario and the provincial food bank network have long-advocated for social assistance reform to improve the programs that so many of our province’s most vulnerable citizens rely on, including nearly 60% of food bank clients.
With the Government of Ontario’s focus on finding efficiencies and cost savings, investing in poverty reduction is a smart choice, as poverty costs the government an estimated $13.1 billion a year Link opens a new window ($15.8 billion when indexed to inflation), due to factors such as increased health costs Link opens a new window and lost productivity.
Beyond the short-term changes to social assistance outlined in our recommendations above, we also strongly encourage the Government of Ontario to consider our other recommendations for change.