Concerning Changes

Two-thirds of Ontario’s food bank clients rely on some form of government assistance as their main source of income. This immediately tells us Ontario’s current system is not working: the benefits are inadequate to meet the recipient’s most basic needs, and the policy directives are complex and can often work against a recipient being able to move out of poverty.

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. While some of the changes were welcome improvements, two of the changes were cause for concern:

People working to move out of poverty may keep less money in their pockets

Despite the proposed increase to earnings exemptions for Ontario Works recipients from $200 to $300, the corresponding increase in clawbacks to subsequent earnings from 50 to 75 percent would leave many OW recipients who are working with less net income compared to the current system.

This graph models the net monthly income of Ontario Works recipients working a minimum wage job under both the current system and with the proposed changes, inclusive of the Low-Income Individuals and Families Tax (LIFT) credit. While program recipients working a few hours would see a small benefit, those working more than 8 hours a week would see more of their Ontario Works benefit clawed back.

This would make it more difficult for recipients to move ahead and break the cycle of poverty through employment.

Many people with disabilities may be excluded from getting the help they need

The proposed alignment of the Ontario Disability Support 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.

Examples of Disabilities That May No Longer Qualify for ODSP

  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Bi-polar disorder
  • Cancer
  • COPD
  • Chronic Pain
  • CIDP
  • Crohn’s disease & Ulcerative Colitis
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Hepatitis C
  • Lupus
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Migraines
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • PTSD
  • Substance abuse disease

This would push more people onto Ontario Works, which is not designed for people unable to work due to disability or illness. In particular, the benefits on OW are 37% lower than on ODSP.

Ontario Disability Support Program Ontario Works
Maximum Monthly Benefit $1,169 $733
Asset Limits $40,000 $10,000
Dental and Vision Benefits Yes Children Only
Earnings Exemptions and Clawbacks $6,000/year exemption with 75% clawback $300/month exemption with 75% clawback
Work Requirements No Yes

Read more about our analysis of the Government of Ontario’s changes to Ontario Works and ODSP in our spring 2019 report, Social Assistance Changes in Ontario.

Improving Social Assistance

Feed Ontario and our network of food banks have long-advocated for reforms to Ontario’s social assistance system. Part of the current challenge is that rates are arbitrarily set without regard for the actual cost of living.

Bill 60 Link opens a new window, a private member’s bill put forward by MPP Paul Miller (NDP, Hamilton-Stoney Creek) and co-sponsored by MPP Bob Bailey (PC, Sarnia-Lambton), would create a non-partisan commission made up of experts and individuals with lived experience, and make evidence-based recommendations on social assistance rates and policies.

Percentage of social assistance income spent on rent for an average bachelor apartment in 10 Ontario cities

Ontario Works ODSP
Toronto 149% 95%
Ottawa 120% 77%
Hamilton 102% 65%
London 94% 60%
Windsor 82% 52%
Sudbury 87% 56%
St. Catharines 97% 62%
Thunder Bay 91% 58%
Brockville 95% 54%
Elliot Lake 68% 43%

Bill 60 passed its second reading in May with all-party support, and is currently being examined by the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly. It is expected to go its third and final reading in the fall when MPPs return to Queen’s Park.

Learn more: Bringing Social Assistance Into This Decade Can Fix The Poverty Gap Link opens a new window

Our Recommendations for Change

To avoid the problems outlined above and move Ontario towards a social assistance system that helps recipients move out of poverty, Feed Ontario recommends the Government of Ontario:

  • Maintain the earnings-related clawbacks at 50 percent
  • Retain ODSP’s current definition of disability
  • Pass Bill 60, Ministry of Community and Social Services Amendment Act (Social Assistance Research Commission), 2019

How Can I Help?

  1. Postcard: Pick up our postcard at your local food bank (or print your own on cardstock), fill in the back with your support, and mail it to your MPP!
  2. Contact: Call, email, or visit your MPP and ask them if they support stopping these concerning changes to Ontario Works and ODSP (find your MPP Link opens a new window | MPP contact information Link opens a new window).
  3. Social Media: Post about why social assistance is important!  Use #HungerActionMonth Link opens a new window so we can boost it, and tag your MPP.

The Campaign

Here are just a few examples of the postcards that were sent to MPPs from food bank clients across Ontario:

We had a record 40 food banks across Ontario participate in this campaign, along with many of their member agencies. Thank you to the staff and volunteers for all their hard work, and most of all, thank you to the food bank visitors for sharing their stories.

Bracebridge Salvation Army Bracebridge
Brantford Food Bank Brantford
Brock Community Food Bank Sunderland
Brockville and Area Food Bank Brockville
Burlington Food Bank Burlington
Caledon Community Services – The Exchange Bolton
Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank Cambridge
Cochrane Regional Food Bank Cochrane
Community Food Share Winchester & Morrisburg
Daily Bread Food Bank Toronto
East Wellington Community Services Erin
Elliot Lake Emergency Food Bank Elliot Lake
Food For All Food Bank Prescott
Gananoque Foodbank Gananoque
Georgetown Bread Basket Georgetown
Gleaners Foodbank (Quinte) Inc. Belleville
Guelph Food Bank Guelph
Hamilton Food Share Hamilton
Helping Hand Food Bank Tillsonburg
House of Lazarus Mountain
Kawartha Lakes Food Source City of Kawartha lakes
Kerr Street Mission Oakville
Lanark County Food Bank – The Hunger Stop Carleton Place
London Food Bank London
Newmarket Food Pantry Newmarket
North Frontenac Food Bank Sharbot Lake
North York Harvest Food Bank Toronto
Ottawa Food Bank Ottawa
Outreach For Hunger Chatham
Partners in Mission Food Bank Kingston
Renfrew & District Food Bank Renfrew
The Hope Centre Welland
The Inn of the Good Shepherd Sarnia
The Mississauga Food Bank Mississauga
The Salvation Army C&FS Listowel Listowel
The Salvation Army Fort Erie Fort Erie
The Salvation Army Huntsville Huntsville
Walkerton & District Food Bank Walkerton
West Lincoln Community Care Smithville
Windsor Essex Food Bank Association – Unemployed Help Centre Windsor