An open letter to Charles Sousa: Please don’t fubar ODSP.

I’m a little late to the party, but welcome to the fold, Charles. Taking over the finance ministry after the hot mess of the last, oh we’ll say 10 years can’t be what you were looking for when you ran for office. But, I suppose congratulations are still in order, given that–well, whether you were looking for it or not–it’s officially all yours. So, congratulations. Please don’t completely screw the pooch.

I don’t do well with preamble, and wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did, so I’ll get to the point. The Ontario disability Support Program (ODSP) has been the Ontario government’s favourite punching bag since the mid to late 90’s. In fact–that was, and is still, one of the things your liberal party continues to blame on the conservative government you replaced–a decade after you replaced them. Here’s the problem, though. The situation of people on ODSP hasn’t exactly done a whole lot of improving in that time. My last actual check on the ODSP situation, all of which you can easily brows over here, gave every indication that while people on ODSP are improving financially, they’re not doing so at a rate that will allow them to continue to live independently (disclosure: for the moment, I am one of those on ODSP, but I’m hoping to change that in the not too distant future). Added to that, the gap between what a person on ODSP receives and Ontario’s minimum wage–and, subsequently, what an able-bodied individual with nothing preventing them from finding and keeping work can and does earn–continues to widen, thus effectively defeating the purpose of a minimum wage when seen in the context of an individual who can’t find work due to a disability.

Presumedly, Ontario’s minimum wage was adjusted since 2004 to its current level of $10.25/hour to account for increases in cost of living. However, recipients of ODSP have not seen a similar increase–or, in fact, anything close to that over that exact same time. Assuming you’re getting the maximum allowable on ODSP, before any additional credits/bonuses/what have you such as an allowance to provide care for a guide dog, on an hourly basis you’ll top out at roughly $6.71, or $1075 per month. From that $1075 per month, you’re expected to pay for rent, electricity, groceries, heat, a phone (ODSP doesn’t consider it a necessity, but try getting a job or even reliably communicating with ODSP without it), and that’s just at a minimum. Want anything extra? Like, say, to be able to aford an air conditioner should your place not include it in the rent? For that matter, want to be able to live in a place that includes things like air conditioning in your rent? Not happening on current levels of ODSP. Especially not happening in a market like Toronto, Ottawa, or pretty much any other major city–thus ruling out pretty much any chance a recipient of ODSP has of moving to a location that would increase the recipient’s chances of finding work.

I get it. Ontario’s $9 billion in debt. You’re not expecting to see it clear that debt entirely until 2016. It might not have been quite so bad had it not been for a couple of gas plants, eHealth, the OLG mess, and the several other self-inflicted wounds that could have probably been avoided if somebody somewhere’d used their freaking brain. But it’s there, and now you get to deal with it. Awesome, except for all the ways in which it’s not. But “deal with it” doesn’t mean leave the folks on ODSP further behind than they already are. Paying rent shouldn’t need to come at the expense of shorting yourself a week’s worth of groceries, or going without heat in January so you don’t need to short yourself that week’s groceries. Do the math, Charles. Other current and former MPP’s already have, and it ain’t pretty. You have the ability to do more than provide lip service. Give it a try. If for no other reason than the opposition already has enough reason to want an election. Why go handing them a free one? That’s what I thought.

2 comments

  1. Syl

    Even though ODSP does not consider a phone a needed item, they once sent me a ‘cut off’ letter(your cheque will never come until you come and see us and answer our questions). At the time I had a phone but could not afford to pay the bill until my ODSP cheque came so it was cut off. When I did go into the office wanting to know why I was cut off. Their reason was that they could not contact me. They tried to call me and since the phone was disconnected they assumed that I didn’t live where I said or something like that and cut me off. They didn’t send me a letter as they usually do when they want to talk to me, they called.
    Just another example of how they love to remind people on ODSP that they can rip the lifeline from you at a blink of an eye. So their policy about phones is just words. Yeah I know the whole thing doesn’t make sense but I’ve learned how little anything makes sense when dealing with them. Over the years I’ve received many of those letters and never ever anything that was of any fault of my own and was put right back on as soon as I spoke to them. However it almost always means my rent is late since they can’t issue a cheque on the spot and if they stopped my cheque from being sent from Toronto, I have to wait for a new one to be issued.

    So they phone is something they want you to have, BUT not something they will help you with.

    • James

      I always rather enjoyed that particular piece of irony. Of course they don’t much like it when I enjoy that piece of irony during one of our meetings, but they get over it quickly enough.

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