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 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
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|
|Dental and Vision Benefits||Yes||Children Only|
|Earnings Exemptions and Clawbacks||$6,000/year exemption with 75% clawback||$300/month exemption with 75% clawback|
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
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?
- 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!
- 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).
- 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.
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|
|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|