MCSS finally responds, tells me to look at the big picture.

the below is pretty much a deconstruction attempt of the Ministry of Community and Social Services’s response to inquiries re: status of welfare/ODSP payments, and how changes to those payments are likely to affect us, if they change at all. You can read my take on it, or skip to the letter.

I’ve been involved in trying to open something vaguely resembling a dialogue with the Ontario government for the better part of the last month or so, with what pretty much amounts to three basic questions. What’s with the ripping off of ODSP/welfare recipients, why are you trying to rip us off even more, and when is it expected to change? It took nearly exactly a month for the minister’s printed letter–nice environmental initiative, Madeleine Meilleur–to finally make it into my hands, and I’m not entirely sure it actually answers any of the questions I set out to ask.

For starters, the letter points out in rather broad scope the various planned initiatives/improvements/what have you the government will, eventually, get around to implementing. It includes the review of social services’s current offerings, something the NDP’s supposedly been pushing for for some time. It doesn’t give a timeline though for when we can expect the said review to actually be completed. It includes a sort of blanket promise for more increases here, a little more there, but doesn’t go into any particular details on how this is supposed to help those currently receiving ODSP/welfare payments. As an example, Meilleur takes this stand regarding currently implemented ODSP increases.

In addition, our government’s 2009 Budget included a two per cent increase to social assistance rates, which provides recipients with an additional $40 million in 2009-10 and an extra 100 million in 2010-11. This is the fifth increase made to the rates since 2005, bringing the total increase to 11 per cent.

Impressive, if you’re looking at it from the government’s standpoint. Of course, anything measured in millions of dollars is impressive. Here’s where that logic runs into a brick wall, however. That 100 million dollars over the course of the next fiscal year, by the time it makes it into the hands of the people who’ll actually be using it, amounts to the tiniest of drops in the bucket. Translated to monthly payments, it equates to an extra 20 dollars maximum. Broken down even farther, it equates to an extra cab fare to get yourself to the grocery store, an extra loaf of bread and/or bag of milk upon arival at the grocery store, or an extra month paid on the lowest of electricity rates. It doesn’t translate to all three, but rather just one of those three. And that only if you can manage to come across a halfway decent sale. And I haven’t even bothered to address the fact that the 11 percent increase over the last 5 years is microscopic compared to the amount minimum wage has gone up in the same timeframe–a very impressive, unless you don’t make minimum wage, 43 percent approximately.

Let’s take it a step further, and look at what she’s planning for the upcoming year. Apparently, nothing. The letter makes no mention of any plans within the next 12 months to make any additional changes to welfare/ODSP payments. I would even argue Meilleur doesn’t even take the 30 seconds required to pat herself on the back for the additional 1 percent increase we’ll be seeing to the said payments in November of this year–I wonder why.

So far, we know what they’ve done 5 years ago. We know what they’ve done 2 years ago. She’s even told us what they’ve done a year ago. And, we know none of that has really helped anything altogether too significantly–in that 5 years, the major increases the ministry’s been trumpetting have amounted to an increase, on a per-cheque basis, of 100 dollars. And that’s where her promises/explanations stop. Okay. So, you know it’s not enough–your letter has escentially said as much. I’ve written to tell you what needs to happen in order to make it enough. You’ve written to escentially say “this is what we’ve done”. Wonderful. Now, let’s translate that into conversation. Let’s get this from a self-congratulatory note to open and honest dialogue about how best to help people who, under the current system, are quite literally unable to help themselves. At the moment, no one in the Ontario legislature’s feeling too up to the task. Instead of telling me to look at the big picture, how about we try improving the quality of the smaller one. Because, quite simply, everything looks better when you’re a thousand feet above it.

Instead of measuring efforts in millions of dollars, let’s start measuring it in millions of people. As in, the millions currently forced to live below the poverty line because, for any number of reasons from disability to lack of marketable skills–something that could be corrected if people could aford to, they can’t grab onto something and pull themselves above it. Now, let’s look at ways we can make this system less hostile to those who actually want to help themselves so they might be able to get off social services, therefore freeing up more funds for those who are as yet unable to. Madeleine Meilleur and the MCSS effectively tell me in the letter below to look at the big picture. I would submit, just for curiosity’s sake, she and her people might want to take a closer look at the smaller one.

The full text of the letter is below, including the contact info for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, should anyone else want to help me to encourage this department to sit down at the table and actually talk about the issue, rather than providing us with a recap of what’s already been done.

Ministry of Community and Social Services
Minister’s Office

Ministere des Services sociaux et communautaires
Bureau de la ministre

– Ontario

Hepburn Block Queen’s Park Toronto ON M7A 1E9 Tel.: (416) 325-5225 Fax: (416) 325-3347

Edifice Hepburn
Queen’s Park
Toronto (Ontario) M7A 1E9 Tel. : 416 325-5225
Telac. : 416 325-3347

MAR 25 2010

Mr. James Homuth
(Contact information removed from this version–I hate spam).
Dear Mr. Homuth:

Thank you for your e-mail regarding social assistance. I appreciate the time you have taken to write and I welcome the opportunity to respond.

I am pleased to say our government has developed a Poverty Reduction Strategy that will make a positive difference in people’s lives. We want all Ontarians to have the opportunities and necessary tools to reach their full potential.

As a part of the strategy, we are going to undertake a review of social assistance with the goal of removing barriers and increasing opportunity. The review will seek to better align social assistance with other supports that clients may access, better communicate program rules and ensure programs work collectively. This complements the commitment we have made to work with our municipal partners to simplify and modernize social assistance, better integrate employment services and harmonize housing supports.

A group of highly experienced and committed community leaders, chaired by Gail Nyberg, Executive Director of the Daily Bread Food Bank, has been selected to help facilitate the review. The Social Assistance Review Advisory Council will help shape a review of the social assistance system and suggest ways to better support vulnerable Ontarians as they transition to greater independence. I have asked the council to advise me on:
. possible short-term changes to social assistance rules; and
. a recommended scope and terms of reference for a review of Ontario’s social assistance system.

You can learn more about the council’s work and give them your feedback on my ministry’s website at www.ontario.ca/mcss.

In addition, our government’s 2009 Budget included a two per cent increase to social assistance rates, which provides recipients with an additional $40 million in 2009-10 and an extra 100 million in 2010-11. This is the fifth increase made to the rates since 2005, bringing the total increase to 11 per cent.

In July 2008, our government introduced the Ontario Child Benefit (OCB), providing assistance to all low-income families. This benefit will gradually increase, providing 1.3 million children in low-income families with up to $1,310 per year, when it is fully implemented in 2013. As part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, we announced an annual increase of$230 million to the OCB, which brings the total to $1.3 billion annually.

Through the OCB, our government is helping to provide vulnerable children with the opportunities they deserve. I am pleased to announce the 2009 Budget accelerated the phase-in of the OCB by two years. As of July 2009, the OCB has been raised to an annual maximum of $1,100, an increase of 83 per cent.

These changes provide a single-parent family, receiving Ontario Works with two children under the age of 12, $1,110 more than in 2008. This represents an increase of$5,670, or 33 per cent from 2003.

Our government has made several other improvements to help social assistance recipients pursue educational opportunities and receive the supports they need to achieve employment goals. We have:
.fully exempted as income, the earnings of social assistance recipients who are enrolled full time, in postsecondary education;
ended the deduction of the National Child Benefit Supplement from social assistance payments;
introduced an exemption rate of 50 per cent on earned income for social assistance recipients who are not enrolled in secondary or postsecondary education to provide a better incentive to work and earn more;
increased the employment start-up benefit to $500 to help recipients pay for job-related expenses;
increased the maximum deduction from earned income for informal child care costs to $600 per month, per child, to provide working parents with other child care options; and extended health benefits for people leaving social assistance for employment.

…..While we know we still have more work to do, our government is committed to making positive changes and I assure you we will keep your suggestions in mind as we move forward.

Sincerely,

Madeleine Meilleur Minister

1 comment
  1. First of all, if you got a response in less than a month, you’re doing pretty well. Part of my job at one point was to respond to letters from the general public on behalf of the minister or deputy. There is usually a file of standard responses — because most people will ask the same 2 or 3 questions…or at least the questions will be close enough to those 2 or 3 that you can use one of 3 letters to respond. You throw a new sentence in here and there, maybe reiterate a phrase from the guy’s email and off you go. That takes about 10 minutes. Then the letter makes its way up the chain of command to get signed off by communications, some deputies and eventually, possibly the minister (or on of her flunkies). Just for fun, have a friend send in an email asking the same sort of stuff and then you can compare responses. Meanwhile, why don’t you send in another letter yourself pointing out all the stuff you just mentioned here. See how long it takes them to get tired of answering you.

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