Social Assistance

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
  • HIV/AIDS
  • 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 ProgramOntario Works
Maximum Monthly Benefit$1,169$733
Asset Limits$40,000$10,000
Dental and Vision BenefitsYesChildren Only
Earnings Exemptions and Clawbacks$6,000/year exemption with 75% clawback$300/month exemption with 75% clawback
Work RequirementsNoYes

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, 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 WorksODSP
Toronto149%95%
Ottawa120%77%
Hamilton102%65%
London94%60%
Windsor82%52%
Sudbury87%56%
St. Catharines97%62%
Thunder Bay91%58%
Brockville95%54%
Elliot Lake68%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

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 | MPP contact information).
  3. Social Media: Post about why social assistance is important!  Use #HungerActionMonth so we can boost it, and tag your MPP.