starting-blast landlocked

Category: ODSP

More ODSP slight of hand. So long, community startup benefit.

I actually had to go looking for this one, after a reader of this thing up and tipped me off. January’s cost cutting that saw the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) kill their medical transportation funding on no notice wasn’t their only attempt at trimming the budget at our expense–it was just the only one I took immediate notice to. As it turns out, they’ve been quite slash happy, our beloved provincial government.

A little background. As I’ve said before when discussing this topic, you can’t do much to find work and thus get off ODSP if you’re living in a teeny tiny town who’s bus system consists entirely of one bus going from a mall at one end of the town to a second mall at the other, picking up and dropping off along the way (yes, I lived there). Which is going to necessitate a trip, with permanent residency in mind, to yonder larger than life city (Ottawa, Toronto, Kitchener, pretty much anywhere that isn’t the middle of nowhere). Rent in most of these cities hits ya pretty hard on a good day, to the tune of you’re either getting a roommate, or paying way too much to share a corner of someone’s basement with a bunch of other folks who can probably only slightly better aford to pay too much for the same corner. On what ODSP gives you, even managing that can be a little tricky if you’d still like money left over for things like, you know, food. Or clothing. Or well, pretty much anything that isn’t putting a roof over your head. Coming up with first and last month’s rent so you can move in to the place that’ll suck up most of your money for the foreseeable future, until something vaguely resembling a break falls into your lap? Not happening without a serious amount of external help. That’s where the community startup benefit came in. Or did, until January of this year.

The way this particular system worked was actually fairly simple, if you paid attention. Every two years, you were eligible for up to $800 to be put towards things you actually needed to get your hands on. Like, say, go buy a few halfway decent outfits. Maybe get caught up on a few bills that have had to wait a month or two longer than you’d like on account of some fool jacked up your rent and you’ve had to rebalance things. Or, and this is the use I most often heard it being put towards, paying for at least most of your last month’s rent so you can manage to get yourself out of the less than helpful situation, and into a spot where you can stand a chance at finding work and getting the hell off ODSP. I used it for that last one myself–and that first one before that (I put my first ever benefit money towards clothes, because I was only a few weeks from employment and getting off ODSP myself, for what that turned out to be worth). It meant you could not only secure yourself a better living situation, but could still aford to actually get you and your belongings there, and still have something left over for all the fun things that come with postmove chaos–like discovering that pretty much everything has an activation fee, and the basics really are cheaper in a small town, even if you make up for it in gas to pick them up.

It was an extremely useful system, and one of the few things during a move I didn’t used to need to step on somebody for. Which matches the Ontario government’s criteria for things what get the axe. So, on January 1 of this year, it got the axe. The page that used to contain information related to that benefit has been removed, replaced instead with a statement confirming the removal.

9.2 – Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit
Removed effective January 1, 2013.

And that’s all she wrote for that program. There are vague mutterings about that program being downloaded to the municipalities, or something else coming out to take its place, but at the moment they’re only vague rumours–the ODSP website’s got nothing, and by the looks of things, neither does anyone who might have an inside track and feel like sharing. So the Ontario government, who spent a good while explaining to me all the wonderful things they’re doing to help us folks on ODSP, has turned around and taken another chunk out of ODSP with nothing to replace it. And once again, the only documentation I can find on it is an obscure corner of their website–the corner linked above–which is more than can be said for their change of heart re: other cost cutting measures, for what that’s also worth.

Like I said before. I get we’ve got a budget situation to deal with. I’m not about to disagree with that. But here’s the thing. This government spent so much time criticising the conservatives for stripping anything and everything they thought they could from ODSP in the 90’s. They spent the majority of their first term and a good chunk of their second making like they were about to up and fix that–they didn’t, naturally, but they do get a B- for effort. Now that the money’s tight (a couple canceled gas plants’ll do that), and folks on ODSP are trying to stay ahead of the small implosion anyone with half a brain knows is coming, the government decides–hey, we don’t need all those extra dollars, so thanks much. Meanwhile the message coming out from all levels of government is the economy’s not back to where it should be yet, so save as much money as humanly possible. I’ll get right on that, government boys. Just as soon as I can properly time things to duck the axe. If you could keep your hands out of my pocket for a year or two, that’d be awesome too. Not happening? Well, I tried.

Add this to the ODSP wish list of things that ain’t happenin’.

From the way back department, a thing that would be useful. Very useful, actually. Which makes it all the more likely it’s just not about to happen. Considering the love (*) we’ve been getting from the government of late, I’d be inclined to think useful things for ODSP folks take a back seat to useful things for executives in the healthcare industry. But, since we’re being wishful and all that, have a thing.

Oct 24 7:33pm: do i get extra money for christmas when i’m on odsp

Good idea. Won’t ever be seen. Same with extra money for just about anything else–like a phone bill, even though not having one makes trying to do anything useful with ODSP a very interesting little exercise in migraine. Of course, I’d love to be proven wrong–there *is* a budget coming down in a week. Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

(*): The government does love us. Or rather, they love to hold us up as a statistic they’re fixing while all the while fixing to do not a whole lot about this mess. But hey, why split hairs? We don’t need all that fancy stuff–like, you know, rent flexibility. That junk’s for the working class.

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.

ODSP cuts costs again, figures you’ll make it up out of pocket.

It’s been a long time since I got to do one of these, largely because while things haven’t really improved a whole lot, they’ve not done much in the opposite direction either. That apparently changed at some point in January. I needed to hit the hospital this past week to bring May home after a minor procedure that required she be overnight. No big thing, really–I could get me there. The hospital wasn’t entirely too far away, to the tune of about a $25 drop each way. I’ve handled worse.

Here’s the thing, though. The Ontario disability Support Program (ODSP) entitles the patient–note: not the one showing up at the hospital with the patient’s belongings–to a lift home from the hospital, or any other medical appointment, with the appropriate level of proof provided (usually confirmation from one of the medical staff that says you’ve been there, you’ve been seen, you need to get home). Because we’re not all Blindy McBlinderson with 24/7 access to a person with both a pair of working eyes and a driver’s license. Also I’m not sure I’d have wanted to wake mine up at 5:30 in the morning if I had that kind of 24/7 access–yes, they might be my sighted servant bitch, but I’m not that cruel.

As I’ve mentioned before, ODSP doesn’t exactly shower us with cash over here. So while it can be afordable getting patient’s things to them, then getting patient home, more often than not it’s afordable at the expense of something else–like I really was hoping I didn’t have to pay to have the prescriptions we were sent home with filled (I didn’t, thank Christ). So I was a teeny tiny bit surprised when, while trying to make arangements to get May and myself home with ODSP’s help, I was informed that as of January of this year, ODSP has stopped offering that service. This according to the folks at the city of Ottawa line that handles requests for such foolery. Again, fortunately for us I didn’t end up needing to pay for prescriptions, but the creative mental tap dancing on the way home would have been impressive were it not to do with figuring out which bill wasn’t getting paid for a couple weeks.

If you’ve been following the ODSP episodes since around 2010, or even if you’re yourself on ODSP, you’re probably very familiar with the extreme difference (note: 2010 figures used) between what folks on ODSP get versus what even folks making minimum wage get. That hasn’t changed much in 3 years–there’s still quite the gap between ODSP payments and minimum wage payments. But ODSP did, at least, have the supports for getting people home from the hospital who otherwise couldn’t get themselves home due to a lack of license, a lack of servant with license, and a lack of public transit service when the discharge order comes in at half past dawn going for it. As of January, they don’t anymore. And they figure it’s perfectly fine if you have to make up the difference out of pocket. Because really, you weren’t gonna buy groceries with that money anyway.

I’ve always said if I had half a choice, I’d leave ODSP in the dust and never look back. I’m still staring down the prospect of giving me half a choice. I get the province is about $25 billion short insofar as the budget goes. I get that they need to trim expenses. I get that they figure we’ll manage to cover it if and when. But I’d be interested in seeing the mental gymnastics that lead to the conclusion that we actually can. Oh, of course–that’s for us to work out. They’re hands off now. Government cost cutting at work. So. About that next election.

PS: You’d figure we’d have gotten a notice from ODSP insofar as they’ve made changes to the service we’re entitled to receive from them. So far as I’ve seen, not so much. Rumour has it that was caught in the cost cutting as well. Damn shame, that.

Edited to add: I originally wrote this entry by email. Apparently when I did that, a link up and broke itself and didn’t get caught by my usual checking and rechecking of things. Go figure. Have a fixed link. Just in time for me to find something else to post about.

And now, a Canadian conspiracy theory.

Have I mentioned that I do love a halfway decent conspiracy, if the theorist behind it puts just a teeny tiny little bit of thought into it? No? Well I have now. The problem with most theories, a la the type you’ve seen in the last few years from south of the border, is they’re pretty grounded in somebody’s imagination. They don’t even really claim any starting ground in reality, beyond whichever news story they’ve picked up on to remind folks their theory still exists. It’s how you end up with things like Sandy Hook was all about banning guns, or your various incarnations of the 9/11 inside job theory and whatever other crapola folks decided to attach to it–complete with the theory that 9/11 wasn’t actually a terrorist attack.

Not to be outdone, somebody’s decided to give “Conspiracy Theory Canada” a shot–because, you know, everything’s original up here if we just slap “Canada” on the end. And they’ve sent me my very own not so personalised copy. Up side: at least this one starts off somewhat grounded in reality. Wanna see how long it takes for the train to jump that track, though? Keep reading. Oh, and “Leon”, if this wasn’t the result you were hoping for, please feel free to try harder. A little sanity might go a long way.

Here’s the reason the supreme court found in favor of alcoholics and drug addicts as being disabled. 1. In 1995 when Mike Harris made a public statement that all ODSP recipients were lazy drug addicts and alcoholics he had to retract his statement. Now they found a way to make it real!

Hey, not bad. Relevant case law, plus the statement of the guy what provoked it. Decent starting point. Just one problem. It doesn’t exactly exist–or, at least, it doesn’t exist in any medium that can actually be referenced. Probably why you didn’t provide a reference, would that be about right, Leon? That’s okay. It happens.

2.Once the supreme court decision was made Community and Social Services Madelene Meuller what ever the F her name is was able to work with other policy makers to determine a way to help with the NWO agenda of a cashless society…they always work from the standpoint of getting the most vulnerable first. They were able to merge OW/ODSP recops and then classify all of us as being incapable of handling our own cash.

I must have missed getting that letter. Since, you know, I’ve delt with ODSP on more than half a million occasions. Still do, in fact. Yeah, they’ve got their issues–and I’ve called the now former minister of social services out a time or two for those issues (You can read everything I’ve put up here on this page). Oh, the two programs share an office in some cities, sure–for the record, that doesn’t include Ottawa based on my few visits there, but if that’s the new definition of merging I think somebody needs to call up Oxford right quick. Again, good try, but it kind of falls a little bit short.

If you noticed they brought out in 2012 the new food card to OW recips! They can only spend it at certain stores and only on food…talk about removing dignity? wtf! Then in the new year 2013 Tim Hudak piece of discriminatory scum…announces that he wants to implement the food card to ODSP recips too!

Um, waitasec. What? No. Yes, the conservatives proposed a food only debit card in 2013. But 1: it was for welfare recipients, not for ODSP. And 2: it was a trial baloon. One not too dissimilar to the foodstamps program in the US, if my reading of it’s correct–oh wait, now we’re getting into the motherland of conspiracies. I should probably point out that trial baloon’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of floating–but for much more, how you say, sane reasons. I have a few of them, but they’re for an entry where Leon doesn’t get my full attention. Sorry. Okay, next.

We will live in slums, eat GMO foods, where second or third hand clothing and basically dissolve into the Canadian governments planned and insidious genocide on disabled people.

… AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAND on your left, reality’s exit sign. That didn’t take long at all. New World Order, government going all exterminator on its population for sport, the type of class warfare only really seen in the movies–all in one not very well constructed sentence. And no supporting evidence. Awesome. Also: if you’re on ODSP and can aford to buy entirely natural/organic/green/whatever the hell you call it food, you’re either getting way more than you’re supposed to be from ODSP or lying. Sorry, but that shit’s bloody expensive.

What amazes me is that; no one stops to think that many disabled people and their families paid into this system of support for decades and this is what we get when we need to collect? All I can say is; people working in government are fucked! and if we don’t look out for each other we’re fucked so there needs to be a group of ODSP recips that will get together in each area and begin to plan heavily for the time the sheep are brought to the slaughter.

That exceedingly loud sucking sound you hear is the last vestages of sanity leaving the argument entirely on its own, drifting somewhere between nonsensical and fiction–and having the door to both slammed on its nuts. Yes, yes, the government is the enemy. We hear it every 6 months or so–again, from the other side of the 49th. Thing is, they at least try to prove their point–complete with actually, you know, including some variation of verification, even if that verification comes from a fellow crackpot who’s got none of his own. All that’s missing from this mess is the class favourite–the media’s got everybody so bloody brainwashed that none of this shit’s allowed to see print, lest somebody up and get arrested, killed, or both at once. Oh, yeah, and quick everybody get your guns. But I guess some nutter stateside has a copyright on that. But copyright is government, and down with government–so come on, Leon. Where’s the blame for the media? Oh–I get it. They paid you off, right?

Yeah that must be it. Tell ya what. I’m no publisher, but I’ll see if I’ve got a contact for one. This could be a best seller. Spruce it up a little, add a bit more depth, throw in a plot twist or three, you could make millions. Then you could get off ODSP and no longer be on the government’s hit list. Or, in the alternative, you could just call the institution you ran away from and let them know you’re ready to come back home. A smart man would do that second one. I’ll see you in Chapters.

Some food for thought for Ontario’s government: “Just get a job” doesn’t solve the ODSP problem.

I’m taking the week off from all manner of mockery, but as this affects several people who read this blog, and as I’ve kind of been–well–sitting on the government’s head over this for quite a while, It could use to be posted. This pretty much explains why just going out and finding work doesn’t actually help, and why rather than the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) just saying “well go apply for work”, they should actually be working towards–well, you know–making it a bit more liveable for people who can’t (note: I didn’t say won’t) find work. My bief with ODSP is rather well documented. Now, we can add this to the list. Are we getting the message yet, Ontario government? Didn’t think so.

ODSP Reform: Why Mandatory Employment Won’t Work

Ahila Poologaindran

Public Policy and Governance Review, December 7, 2012

Since its inception in 1998, the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) has been a parcel of Ontario’s social assistance program, providing income support benefits and employment support services to people with disabilities. Due to a recommendation in the 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy that identified removal of barriers and importance of employment support as a vital poverty reduction strategy, the Ontario government appointed Frances Lankin and Munir A. Sheikh to review the province’s social assistance program.

In October of this year, the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance released Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario. By consulting various stakeholders for nearly two years, it proposed some recommendations that, if implemented, would radically change the system. Though many of the recommendations are promising, one particular proposal might take the Province backwards.

Under the newly proposed system, all ODSP recipients would be required to set out employment goals and a course of action to get there – a Pathway to Employment Plan. Devised in collaboration with a caseworker, a recipient’s plan would identify and develop a “pathway” to employment, taking into consideration his or her limitations and abilities.

If a recipient cannot work full time or at all, a temporary deferral would be granted and he or she would be expected to participate in activities identified in the plan to prepare for and find work eventually. A recipient would have to meet these conditions in order to receive income support.

In order to understand the seriousness of such a regulation change, it is important to contextualize the challenges that currently face the Ontario government.

  • For 2011-12, Ontario’s expenditure on ODSP totalled $4,101 million, excluding drug benefit program costs. In fact, the number of ODSP cases continues to increase at a higher rate than expected.
  • Only 10% of primary recipients report earnings from employment.
  • From 2009-10, 60% of new ODSP grants were due to a mental health disorder, either as a primary condition or a secondary condition.

In 2010, 5% of Ontario’s working-age population was receiving disability-related income. This number is expected to be higher of recipients of all disability-related income support sources were taken into account.

Despite the pressing need for including people with disabilities in the labour market, Ontario should not mandate some of its most vulnerable residents to find employment. The above-noted figures are due partly to the systemic barriers to employment that people with disabilities face.

Without addressing some of these pervasive factors contributing to low employment rate, it is unrealistic to expect all recipients to find and maintain employment by simply creating a plan.

Granted, the Commission recommended options that would raise awareness and promote the employability of ODSP recipients. Nevertheless, recommendations that highlight the employer’s role in integrating people with disabilities in the labour market must make substantial headway before ODSP recipients are forced to pursue employment options.

Research highlights that when many people with disabilities are employed, they are often relegated to the margins, receive low wages with no benefits, and are often the first to get laid off. In order to fully integrate people with disabilities into the labour force, they must be able to obtain meaningful employment that would make mobility within the workplace possible.

The Pathway to Employment Plan hopes to encourage and incentivize recipients to prepare for and find employment. However, it is blind to the fact that entrenched systemic barriers as well as employment conditions are not conducive to integration, even when the Plan considers the recipient’s abilities and limitations.

This is not to say that many recipients would not benefit from such a plan. On the contrary, the individualized approach to employment may facilitate a greater number of recipients into the labour market.

But recipients must not be threatened by reduction in income support. Rather, the Plan should recognize the value of volunteer work and child care along with employment-related activities. The value of an Ontarian should not simply be reduced to his or her ability to earn.

Ahila Poologaindran is a 2014 MPP Candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. She holds a joint degree in Political Science and International Development Studies from McGill University. Ahila has worked for the non-profit sector as well as for the Ontario Public Service. Her interests include migration, mental health, and social policy.

http://ppgreview.ca/2012/12/07/odsp-reform-why-mandatory-employment-wont-wor k/

The google’s been reading my mind. Or: why I should not know the answer to this query.

I’ve been in a situation where this search actually applied. It sucks, but hey, whatcha gonna do? If someone else is looking, aim them here. If, uh, they haven’t come here already.

May 19 2:44pm: will odsp pay your hydro bills if you cant

fortunately, or not, depending on your perspective, they will. It’s a little bit convoluted, and it comes with a bit of a catch, but it’ll happen. Now, whether or not them doing that for you is worth the catch it comes with is entirely your call. But they’ll at least do that much for you. Also useful if your choice is hydro bill or groceries, but that’s a rant for another, unprompted entry.

More random ODSP searches.

I said I’d do more of these. Then I, uh, promptly fell off a cliff. So this one’s quite old. The searcher probably found what they were looking for already. But, you know. You’ll have that.

May 17 11:55am: minimum wage vs odsp

There’s not much of a comparison here. Minimum wage is way the hell up there ($10.25, last I’d heard). when I made the calculation in an open letter to Ontario’s government, what we receive on ODSP was well below that. It still is. And there’s been nearly as much activity on that file as there was in 2010–translation: not much. And that’s what we’re left with. I’m going to most likely need to needle the government again. But for right now, hopefully this answers someone else’s question who just so happens to be tossed over here by Google etc.

I used to be this naive.

Then, I got me an education real fast. From today’s random glance at search stats:

Jul 20 9:05pm: will odsp try to employ me or just pay me

Don’t we all wish. Sadly, neither ODSP or the CNIB will do much for employment up here–despite the insistence by some folks in these parts that they do, or should. ODSP barely pays you, actually–thus, making it very nearly impossible to do much that vaguely resembles being financially, er, stable. Now, then, if that ever changes, I’ll probably be first in line up here. But, hello, sucky economy. It ain’t changin’ anytime soon. Sorry, random person from I think Google. You’re in the same boat I’m in. No wonder it’s barely floatin’.

I could teach this Googler a thing or two.

You know I have too much free time when I can pluck a random search query out of the statistics for today and turn it into a blog post. Today’s random Google question comes from this side of the border–and this province, I’d imagine.

May 25 11:15am: ODSP how can I spend it?

Oh, my poor unwitting searcher. Let me count the ways. Let’s see. first, you find an apartment in the middle of nowhere to attempt to call home. Then, you pay the nearly 50% of your maximum entitled income on rent–before luxuries like, say, electricity or phone service (which they don’t count as a necessity anyway, cheap buggers). Or maybe that’s just how I did it. For my next random search-inspired blog post, possibly, how to *save* your ODSP–the screw you over version.

The myth of online privacy, or why the ODSP’s activities fail to surprise me.

I wrote last Friday that the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) has taken to threatening law enforcement action were I to show up at the meeting that was supposed to have taken place on Monday morning. Yeah, that one that was scheduled for a teleconference later on that same afternoon–more on that in another entry. They’re threatening law enforcement action over a single sentence in a previous post that made clear in no uncertain terms the professional damage that may or may not have resulted from this meeting were the level of incompitence displayed so far by my caseworker to actually go unaddressed. I was, rightly so, more than a little pissed with what’s been happening the last few months on that file, and more than a little irritated someone decided to focus more attention on a single sentence in a blog post than on the actual issues that provoked the afore mentioned blog post. Irritated, but not surprised.

Related:

It’s been a common trend in the last few years, though more so in the last year or so, to see how far government agencies and potential employers can shove even the pretension of online privacy out of the way under the guise of performing a more thorough background check. From the Maryland department of corrections asking for social networking passwords as a part of their certification/recertification process, to a New Jersey police chief who seems to have no problem telling parents to hack their kids’ online passwords–and even shows them how complete with spyware, that’s becoming the cool thing to do. And I’m not even touching the most recent instance of online content overreaction in Canada involving two teenagers, a Facebook photo and a conservative political ralley. yeah, those two teenagers.

Part of me expected this exact response, pretty much as soon as I started to push back against what ODSP was up to. And, indeed, it was even while expecting that response that I still wrote the exact post I did, in the exact context I did, and later ran into the exact result I did. So why wouldn’t I change my writing accordingly, people have asked? Put in the simplest of terms, because I’m not that dishonest. No, this isn’t Facebook and people don’t need my password to see 90% of what I write here. Yes, this blog is perfectly and completely public, and yes, I’m very well aware of this–I made it that way for a reason. But, much like the Facebook photo incident of this past week, the only reason anything on this site became an issue at all rather than the, in my opinion, more important priority of getting to the bottom of the mess at least one person made of the last 3 months’ mountain of paperwork is because someone actually had time, and may have been getting paid for said time, to have a sit down and throw something into Google that landed them on the blog.

I’d be a freaking liar if I said I didn’t enjoy taking a look at who’s been checking this place out and from where. I’d be lying if I said I do this solely for my own benefit–Microsoft has an incredible word processor for that if I really really need something like that. But yes, primarily, this is my thing. Sometimes, my thing includes something others will find semi-useful and/or interesting–that’s what search engines are for, after all. but I have a significant problem when people actually devote time and resources to scanning this blog, or any other that I help to maintain, looking for dirt–be it on me, on friends of mine, on family, on my friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s mother’s cat. I’m not in the business of slinging mud. for that reason, you’ll find no mud on this blog to sling–be it at me, or at anyone I happen to know. I’ve called people and/or government and/or corporate entities out on this blog. I will continue to call people and/or government and/or corporate entities out on this blog, if the said people and/or government and/or corporate entities continue to screw people over on the same, consistent basis. And if the only thing certain entities can find in their obviously too much spare time to make an issue of is one line in an otherwise mild–for me, anyway–expression of general overall fed-up-ness, I must be doing something pretty damn right.

No, I’m not surprised in any way, shape or form that at least 3 ODSP locations–Kingston, Ottawa and Cornwall–have been scouting out my blog. In fact, I’m really kind of flattered that a small-time blog like this one manages to make it onto ODSP’s radar, even if it’s over what amounts to trivialities that in 6 months won’t make a whole hell of a lot of difference. But not being surprised by it doesn’t mean I agree with the fact that a government entity who has until this past week had no interest whatsoever in actually giving me a response has decided, on the public dime, to devote time and energy to looking for the smallest hint of an almost problem and trying desperately to turn it into a major issue. That’s crossing at least one line, and with very little in the way of justification for it–last week’s teleconference didn’t exactly reveal much in the way of straight answers about it. I’m still waiting. Perhaps the next time one of ODSP’s people drops in, they’ll leave a comment behind or otherwise drop me a line. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll include their justification for doing so. But if it doesn’t, on that, I also won’t be surprised.

ODSP decides they don’t like me after all, threatens to have the police meet me.

Seems them what run the disability support system around here haven’t gotten done having fun with me yet. At the eleventh hour, escentially, with an hour left in the actual business day and therefore not a whole lot of time to actually work around their latest curve, ODSP decides they’d like to go another fun-filled round. We got on the phone with a manager this morning, due to the fact one of us can’t trust our caseworker half as far as we can throw her. Explained the situation, got told she’d look into it and get back to us by the end of business today. So I’m helping Jessica get set up for a project we’re contemplating starting work on, and the call comes in from the manager. I figure okay, she’s got answers for us. We can get part of these issues resolved hopefully before Monday, if not try and prevent the need to go in there in the first place. Not so much. Seems in their spare time, Ontario Disability Support Program employees run random Google searches on folks in the hopes of hitting on something potentially scandalous. One such employee–wouldn’t surprise me if it was the very manager we spoke to, honestly–comes across my blog. There are several pops for people showing up here using keywords related to ODSP and/or Pembroke, so that wouldn’t surprise me. She, or someone working for her, decides to take offense at one or two sentences in a post published here earlier this week. Specificly, this post published here earlier this week. They’ve decided, based on the fact they have plenty of free time and can very easily spend it on Google, that they’re not going to permit me to show up for Monday’s meeting. Taking it a step further, they have apparently decided that my showing up on Monday will constitute a perfectly good reason for them to have the police involved.

So now, not only do we have Wingnut deciding to play the privacy game only if and when it suits her, but higher level management is apparently deciding that I’m a threat to the security and safety of employees of the ministry of community and social services. Instead of me showing up there, they have proposed instead that they call at 9:00 AM on Monday morning–the smart money’s on that phone not ringing at 9:00 AM on Monday morning, just sayin’. We’ll supposedly be holding this meeting via teleconference on that day at that time with all parties involved.

So if I have this straight, and in all likelyhood I may not actually have this straight, potential privacy issues and general incompitence takes a back seat in this ministry to looking for and possibly attempting to make use of some incredibly trivial part of a blog post expressing more than a little tiny bit of frustration with the offending ministry. Really. And the tax dollars of people who actually don’t have a problem finding work are paying for this? That must go over insanely well.

I have not received any notice, written or otherwise, legal or otherwise, requesting and/or requiring me to take down or modify the offending post. Anyone who knows me probably knows just how far such a request would actually get them. The request to not show up on Monday also didn’t come in writing, legal or otherwise. The only reason I’m not seriously considering just showing up there anyway? I’m not *looking* for problems–they’re handing me enough without me helping them along with the process. This meeting will happen. This meeting will happen on Monday. And if this meeting doesn’t happen on Monday, at least one of us, probably both, will be on the next vehicle moving in an officeward direction. Oops–probably shouldn’t of said that. I’ll expect the Ottawa Valley detachment at my door Tuesday morning. Well, if you folks from the offices of the ODSP are going to spend this much time tracking what gets tossed up here when I’m not over my head in job searches, least you could do is drop a comment once in a while–say hi to that guy you’re trying to dig up some dirt on. Wait, no, nevermind–it’s much more fun to yoink lines from a random post completely out of context. My mistake. I’ll know better next time.

Update on the ODSP front. I thinks I may have spooked Wingnut.

You’ll remember I made mention to the fact my caseworker, who we’re still calling Wingnut, has been sort of using privacy laws as a protective shield. To the point of even if the roommate was in the room and could give permission, she wasn’t interested. I get a call from her this morning, and suddenly, she thinks she knows where the inconsistency I’m seeing might be coming from. She supposedly has the numbers right in front of her, has both my and Shane’s case file in front of her, and would be open to discussing things with us. Keep in mind, in 4 days, whether she wants to or not, we’ll be discussing it with her in person. And Shane’s caseworker–which is probably what she’s trying to avoid. She called today, she says, with the intention of saving us a trip into town. Pity the poor girl for at least coming up with a convenient excuse–or, would that be a convenience excuse. Unfortunately, we’ve already got other things bringing us into Pembroke anyway, kind of haphazardly scheduled around the fact we were going to start our day there. So she was informed, pretty much, we’ll see you Monday. Good try though, Wingnut. Now if only you’d just tried that a month ago.

Schooling ODSP in the art of numbers.

So as any of you who’ve been reading this thing since December are aware, it’s been somewhat of an uphill fight between the Ontario disability Support Program (ODSP), Shane, and myself. We’d go a round or two, find a clue, offer it up and have it escentially kicked across the room by someone in government who thinks they know better. We’d find more information, offer it up, complete with the math that lead us to the result you’d expect to see if you actually follow their own rules, and get summarily told we were using the wrong math. Lovely. Except in every which way that it’s not. And oh, let me count the ways. So the four of us–Shane and I, and our respective caseworkers–go several rounds about that over the course of the last month or so. And in the process of doing so, come up with the fact that not only were we using a completely different math system from what our caseworkers were, but apparently our caseworkers were using completely different systems from each other–thus resulting in completely different results being pried out of completely identical documentation. Yeah, I don’t get it either. That’s government for ya.

So we spend the better part of the last month trying to work around that, and hit one very problematic road block. Both caseworkers are clinging to privacy laws like they’re on life support. In spite of the fact half the time when we call, Shane and I are 3 feet away from each other and can get a good enough idea what the conversation’s going to end up revealing just based on one side of it. And picking up the phone and saying “by the way, you have my permission to access my case file and compare with his case”? Yeah, not good enough, apparently.

In her defense, Shane’s caseworker is at least in possession of a low-level clue. Enough of one that I don’t think her information’s the source of half our problems. Mine, on the other hand, could probably benefit from some retraining in a few key areas. In theory, I could probably have told Shane’s caseworker to go ahead and look up my file and she might have. Mine? Nope. Can’t. Privacy laws. Permission doesn’t matter. So, fast forward to Monday. Shane has to be in to see his caseworker anyway for an unrelated matter, so I bounce it off him and the wheels on the way back that we find a brand new way to tackle this small little tiny minor issue. Both caseworkers, both of us, one room, A S A fuckin’ P. So we make the call Monday afternoon. Shane’s worker, we’ll call her Clue, has absolutely no problem with it. Oh, you want a meeting? Awesome. James is coming too? Okay. He’s dragging his caseworker in as well? Hey, that works. 9:00 AM? Why not? My worker, on the other hand, we’ll call her Wingnut, takes a little more twisting, turning and kicking to get her into the same meeting. Oh, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it. We can’t have a joint conference–the other party has to be perfectly fine with it. Oh, er, he is. Well. Um. I’ll have to check with his caseworker. Oh. You did. Well, er, let me see if I’m available. Oh, crap–entire morning’s free. 9:00 AM, you say. Can I ppossibly get away with calling in sick? (Note: she didn’t actually say that last part, but you know she thought it.) Fine, fine. But I probably won’t change anything anyway.

After she ran out of excuses, we finally dragged Wingnut into the meeting schedule with the three of us. This coming Monday, sharp at 9 barring natural disasters, I have a sneaking suspicion somebody’s going to get an education in just what the hell their job involves–a little hint for those of you keeping score, it doesn’t actually involve trying your hardest to pull a fast one. So bright and early Monday, me, Shane, Clue, Wingnut, a pair of eyes of our choosing, and a small mountain of already submitted documentation will all pile into a conference room down at the place what employs ODSP peoples. A well-timed phone call could, if the need should present itself, also see she whom Wingnut and Clue report to showing up for that very same meeting.

It’s one thing for us to end up getting different results from the government. That’s kind of expected–if they can find some way to sneak it in that you don’t actually get your hands on everything you should, they’ll do so. If you don’t expect it, well, sorry. But when two government employees, handling two different case files, get slapped with the exact same supporting documentation for both case files and come up with completely different results, even from one another, Houston, we has a problem. When we can take a look at the inner math supposedly behind both cases, even after having said inner math explained to us, and still end up being sent for a loop thanks largely to the fact the results don’t even look like they *should* be close, yeah, say hello to the red flag, ladies and thinggies. Somebody’s not giving us the goods, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not Clue. I have an equally deep suspicion the problem will be solved, or unemployed, before this issue’s fully delt with. I hate being screwed with.

Oh, and miss permission doesn’t bypass privacy laws? Turns out that only applies if you’re not Wingnut, apparently. According to her, she and Clue had a conference re: this issue in which both our cases were discussed. Neither Shane nor I were informed of such a conference, as we would have needed to be in order to be fully in compliance with privacy laws. Clue, naturally, didn’t exactly confirm they held a conference re: our respective cases, so once again, somebody’s either lying or violating those same privacy laws she has no problem slapping us in the face with. That gets added to the list of, shall we say, topics on the agenda for Monday’s meeting. This, combined with the few months of back and forth that haven’t really gotten us anywhere, combined with the fact 90% of this issue could have probably been cleaned up if they’d either 1: actually compared notes or 2: applied just a little bit of consistency to their own procedures, is going to make for a quite interesting morning. I have a sneaking suspicion one of us is going to come away bloody. And I’ll be quite damned if it’s gonna be me.

In which I get an introduction to ODSP math.

I’ve been on ODSP’s case for, like, ever about not escentially drumming us out of the running financially, for what little my being on them’s managed to accomplish. For those just tuning in, ODSP is the Ontario Disability Support Program, also known as those folks what pay me because no one likes to hire the blind guy and I still have bills to pay. I’ve done everything from harass folks locally to write the folks who actually make the decisions, most of which eventually ended up documented on this thing calling itself a blog. Adding to my reasons for harassing folks at both ends of the food chain, my recent attempt to save money has prompted ODSP to attempt to save a little on its end. Thus, not doing a whole lot on mine to make actually saving money worth my while.

Let me bring you up to speed. I live in a fairly cheap apartment, rent-wise. It’s $550 a month, plus your electricity. For most places, that’s cheap. For Pembroke, I’m surprised it was even vacant. I’ve lived there since 2009. At the end of 2010, I decided it would be in my best financial interest to do the roommate thing. Yeah, that would eventually require a bigger apartment, but two bank accounts are almost always better than one, so the math should have worked out. Then I got a phone call. I’d forgotten there was actually two different types of math at play, here. There was actual math, as in that stuff you were forced to sit through before they’d let you get out of highschool, then there’s ODSP math. That, apparently, follows an entirely different, much more nonsensicle, set of rules.

We ran the math out, figuring we could probably manage to free up an average of roughly $250 between the two of us, which could easily be realocated into bills we otherwise would have had a difficult time paying had we decided to be stubborn about it and forego the whole idea of a roommate. Those numbers in hand, we actually planned our month of January figuring if things changed, they wouldn’t change by a whole heaping lot, so we could optionally minus 50 from here or there if we needed to in order to cover off something else. We played with it until it didn’t hurt our heads, then left it there. The month rolled over, and shortly after, the phone rang. It was ODSP. They’d decided they’d be cutting a nifty little slice off each of our monthly allowances, to the tune of very nearly what we were figuring we could just end up reusing. On top of that, a letter showed up in my name 3 days after that wonderfully heartwarming conversation, escentially telling me they believe I was overpaid for the month of December and they’d be collecting that back, kind of now like. And they did it in the form of slicing off what they were going to, plus what they thought would be an awesome magical number to just sort of start at for repayment. Yeah, just how I wanted to start my 2011. While dealing with that, we were also looking at the possibility of said larger apartment, and trying very hard not to laugh at the prospect of them arguing with us about our attempt to save money just long enough that they wind up being forced just by way of our expenses to reverse themselves anyway, and we’d still wind up not having actually managed to come out any further off the financial ropes.

Since I hadn’t yet figured out exactly how much they’d be snagging from me each month to compensate for having paid me more than they’ve decided I’m worth, I went with their usual practice and left things as they were for the time being. Then the roommate fled to see his girl, and I came down here. I wouldn’t find out until a few days later, when I both had time and wasn’t at too much a risk of losing a lung to actually do the month’s finances on my end–belatedly, but hey, they got done. Their definition of a repayment plan leaves me with less money at the end of it than I had pre-roommate. All told, I actually ended up losing most if not all of what I was kind of aiming to put towards the actual paying of bills.

Look, guys, I get you’re cheap. Really, I do. I get you measure your $10 annual increases in the context of millions of dollars combined. Again, I really do. But not even you can comprehensibly wrap your heads around this attempt at math, as evidenced by the fact no one I’ve spoken to on this file’s come anywhere near close to an explanation that doesn’t try very hard not to trip over itself and fall flat on its face. Just what actual sense does this make? Seriously? Not only does ODSP want to not actually give you more money, but if you actually try and save yourself some of the money they do give you, that only serves to invite them to claw it back whether they actually should or not. And of course, the system is designed in such a way that they decide you can live on this amount, and you get to provide them 80 metric tons of documentation on why you can’t, then wait for them to maybe or maybe not–usually not–change their minds.

ODSP is here to foster independence and help recipients to actually function on their own without needing to spunge off family/friends. Just don’t actually try and avoid spunging. Turns out ODSP math doesn’t allow for it.

Note to the city of Ottawa: do this. Now.

Rallying cry for more housing money

In what can only be described as a rallying cry for more support, affordable housing advocates from across Ottawa came together Thursday to call on municipal council and mayoral candidates to commit to funding more social housing.

The numbers are pretty simple: $15 million annually for the next 10 years to help build 10,000 affordable housing units. That will help get the 10,000 families on the social housing waiting list into homes.

Folks, you’re being freed from having to fund ODSP payments out of your own pocket. I’m not even sure why Ontario felt the need to force the municipality to pay for it to begin with–so that’s why we’ve been getting the shaft lately–what with it being called the Ontario disability Support Program, but that’s why I’m not in politics. Now that Ontario’s finally taking back the costs for doing so from the city, do those of us who’re on the list a huge favour. Build something useful–like, you know, housing units that don’t take up 80% of the check just on rent alone. That’d be awesome.

Seriously, you need to do this. There’s no such thing as a good job in Pembroke, and no such thing as a cheap apartment in Ottawa. And hey, at least then you’re only paying to potentially house the guy from this court case. That has to be a cheaper alternative.

It’s amazing what some folks will call a disability now.

I’m still curious what the human rights people’s explanation is for this.

The Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld rulings that denying two chronic alcoholics long-term support payments would violate the province’s Human Rights Code.

The Ontario Disability Support Program had argued over the years the men should be ineligible for benefits because their sole impairment was severe alcoholism.

That argument had been rejected by the Social Benefits Tribunal in 2006 and last year by the Ontario Divisional Court, and the support program director took the case to the Appeal Court.

The Appeal Court on Thursday upheld the earlier rulings, saying that denying benefits to Robert Tranchemontagne and Norman Werbeski — who died a year ago — would be discriminatory, based on their disability.

It rejected arguments the men should instead collect welfare, which would require them to look for a job and get help with their alcoholism.

Welfare payments would be about half of what recipients receive in long-term disability.

So because a couple people who can’t be bothered making use of the more than a few options open to them re: getting a halfway decent job, the appropriate counselling–paid for by us, most likely–so they can at least have a chance at not drinking, and generally having a far more decent life than they’re giving themselves now are too lazy to do any of the above, Ontario’s human rights commission–and, apparently, the court of appeals–escentially states they get to be lumped in with those of us who just so happen to actually be disabled because… why, exactly? They can’t drink as much on welfare? They might actually have to eventually work? Seriously, I’m clueless here.

How is it, exactly, that two people who’s only “disability” is the fact they can’t seem to let go of the bottle long enough to get their heads on straight get to sit there and say they’re disabled, meanwhile the actual disabled among us pretty much get the shaft, and are at the same time trying to wiggle their way off this fish hook Ontario’s government calls a support program? Okay, I get it–kicking the habbit’s hard. I’ve got an uncle who’s been quitting off and on since before I was born. It sucks. Just like quitting smoking sucks. Or getting over your addiction to pain killers. Or any number of bad habbits people pick up for one or more of several hundred reasons. I get that. But being addicted to smoking, or pain killers, or any number of those other bad habbits, isn’t a disability. Neither, contrary to what our lovely HRC would like us to believe, is alcoholism.

Not entirely too long ago–in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s still going on in one way, shape or form–a relative of mine ended up with some pretty significant health issues. Not to get into any major details–folks I talk to on a regular basis already know the specifics, but it’s resulted in some pretty unhealthy complications that pretty much kept him doing as little as humanly possible while he recovered, on doctor’s orders. That same doctor also told him 3 things he was to start doing, as soon as humanly possible after he was pretty well recovered, in order to avoid a repeat–and, yes, so he could eventually get back to work. In no specific order they were: knock off the smoking, get a reasonable amount of exercise, lose some weight. He did none of those three. Instead, he started the ball rolling to try and collect his own disability paycheck. I don’t believe he ever succeeded, though he may still be trying–in all honesty, I haven’t been bothered to ask. But, he took that approach because it was easier–because he wouldn’t have to change anything then, and he and his family could still keep living most of the lives they were used to. Of course, meanwhile while he was trying to pull off that maneuver, money was tighter than anything and his wife ended up having to take a minimum wage job just to keep the roof over their heads–she hadn’t worked for at least 25 years until then. I continue to maintain he shouldn’t get a dime from ODSP, and neither, in my honest opinion, should these two.

Now, yeah, I’m definitely not the biggest fan MCSS and the Ontario Disability Support Program have at the moment. I’ll admit that. But in this case, if only because it illustrates in its most simplistic way part of what’s making the rest of us come up with the short end of the stick, I’m falling in step right beside them on this one. Save the disability payments for those of us who’re actually, you know, disabled. And get the one guy who’s still alive some freaking help. Seriously.

If you’re in Toronto in July and have an interest in supporting ODSP recipients, check this out.

Date July 7, 2010
Time 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Where Metro Hall Rotunda, Toronto

Event source
ODSP Action Coalition

——————————————————————————–

From an ODSP Action Coalition announcement:

Please join us on July 7th for the ODSP Action Coalition’s event “Telling Our Stories: Disability Should Not Equal Poverty”.

This event will bring together ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) recipients, agency workers and members of the general public to learn more about what it is really like to live on ODSP.

The speaking agenda includes a panel discussion on human rights and ODSP (all panellists are on ODSP), as well as personal stories from four people with experience living on ODSP.

The event will also include informational displays and an area where you can share your own story. We are also excited to launch the ODSP Action Coalition’s Disability Declaration at this event.

For more details visit
http://www.odspaction.ca/story/join-us-june-24
English, Web Page 
Complete announcement

Were I one of those people with the reason and money to get myself down to Toronto, I’d be going in a hurry. Mostly, because this fits right in with my own ODSP campaign. But, since I’m not presently able to, I’m going to encourage strongly anyone who reads with an interest in hearing what they have to say to get around to checking it out. It could stand to be quite educational.

Update: Apparently, the article as pasted comes with a surprise–in the form of a broken link. Have a working one.

MPP couldn’t survive on welfare.

MPP couldn’t survive on welfare

Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey did the math and says Ontario should do more for people on social assistance.

Bailey is one of 18 MPPs who filled out a “Do The Math” survey for the Social Planning Network of Ontario — a group asking the government to give more money to people on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program benefits.

MPPs estimated their own basic living expenses and came up with an average of $1,314 a month — $729 more than a single person receives from Ontario Works.

Bailey, who estimated $987 a month, said, “Something’s got to give.”

The network’s Put Food in the Budget campaign wants Ontario to pay a $100 monthly healthy food supplement to every adult on social assistance.

“I know with the deficit it can’t happen overnight but we certainly have to do something,” Bailey said.

He added he also supports Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett’s private member’s bill that would allow people receiving disability support benefits to keep more of the money they earn working.

Social assistance clients make up about 30% of the 1,800 people visiting the Inn of the Good Shepherd food bank each month, according to executive director Myles Vanni.

“The assistance amounts are well below what you really need to survive,” he said.

Bailey, a Tory, said the Liberal government hasn’t acted on the campaign’s call because the poor don’t have a voice at Queen’s Park.

“They don’t have high-paid consultants or lobbyists to work for them, like all the other groups.”

He added he finds it “disheartening” a government that wasted “billions” in the E-Health and Ontario Lottery Corporation scandals won’t do more to help people on social assistance.

“We’re talking minimal amounts of money to help people who are the most vulnerable.”

Mike Balkwill, co-ordinator of Put Food in the Budget, said Ontario’s government doesn’t see “any political advantage” to helping the poor, even though studies show that can lower health care and other costs over the long-term.

“As many other people have said, the poor are ignored in good times and forgotten in bad times,” he said. “So, we just have to raise the political price for them.”

pmorden@theobserver.ca

The NDP gets it. The conservatives, at least one conservative MPP–just not the one for Pembroke and area, gets it. When can we expect the governing liberal party to get it? And when can we have that conversation I’ve been talking about? I feel another open letter coming on.

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

The newspaper called it. Social assistance programs definitely aren’t being fixed.

The Star provides a rather interesting take on why it is the province of Ontario, and indeed many other governments both in and out of Canada, are usually pretty hesitant to fix systems like welfare, or the only slightly less crippling disability support system. In a nutshell, the province views it as a case for less eligibility. If you’re not working for at least the minimum necessary to live, the article argues, you’re not entitled to at least the minimum to live. This according to the province’s mentality, anyway. Which is a rather interesting notion, when you consider many of these entities now are, supposedly, in place to help people who otherwise can’t meet those minimum standards. Minimum standards that, as one Toronto counsellor’s finding out for himself, aren’t really doing a whole lot of being met.

Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc’s 11-year-old daughter Catherine looks at her family’s food bank ration of tinned salmon, dried chick peas and peanut butter and wonders what her friends will think when they come to her house for lunch this week.

That was one of the first reactions of 10 prominent Torontonians at the Stop Community Food Centre yesterday, as they embarked on a week of living on what thousands of people on social assistance regularly pick up from local food banks.

That’s not far from the truth. And, on the $572 welfare recipients get–again, this according to the very same “do the math” campaign, food banks are probably going to be a frequent stopping point for a hell of a lot of people. Particularly those who’d rather a roof over their head when they do grab something to eat. And, keep in mind, the $572 is just for a single person. Living in Pembroke, nevermind Toronto, I couldn’t manage to pull off being self-sufficient on that. I can barely manage that on ODSP–hence my two, and soon to be three, letters to the government on the subject.

On ODSP, a single person is entitled to only $460 more than someone on welfare. Which escentially means I can aford to live in subsidised housing and maybe buy escential groceries. It also means, even though I’m not currently in subsidised housing, I won’t flatline financially. It’ll be extremely close on a lot of days, but that’s about it. A welfare recipient, however? It’s either subsidised or nothing for them. There aren’t very many small apartments, particularly in Toronto, for less than $500 a month. If there are, they probably don’t come with anything included, thus negating total expenses still being less than $500 per month. Which doesn’t leave a whole lot of getting by money for pretty much anything else. And that’s the system the province, according to the Star, isn’t very likely to fix any time soon. Unless a whole freaking lot of us find ourselves some blunt objects and a local MPP.

H/T to Zoom, who pointed this campaign out back in February. The fact there’s interest out there from people who aren’t currently benefitting from the system might just go a ways towards helping. Or, at least, it can’t hurt. Now, about those local MPP’s.

The Ontario government tries, very hard, to explain its budget changes. And fails horribly.

At the end of March, we got a good look at Dalton McGuinty’s definition of equality. Which, really, isn’t much of a definition at all. They’ve since come out with a feel-good statement explaining how the cancelation of ODSP’s special diet allowance, which will be replaced by a thinggy to be named later, and the tiny 1 percent increase to ODSP payments is good for us.

Basicly, the statement as it stands now says two things. “People might be misusing it, so we’ll just trash the whole damn thing.”, and, “You don’t need to know what we’re replacing it with. We’ll tell you when we think you’re old enough to hear it.”. All the while, it trumpets the glorious occasion that is the oh so generous increase of 1 percent to monthly payments–the same increase I’ve already scolded them for, not that any of the ruling parties have taken the time to respond to that letter yet. Combine that with the advent of the HST, and what we have here is a failure to live up to your mandate.

On the up side, it does confirm ODSP increases won’t even be in effect until November, also known as 6 months after the HST kicks us in the face. Meanwhile, a much more significant increase to minimum wage is already in effect. Not that that’ll do much to offset the HST either, but it’ll do more than we have to work with. All things considered, I’d much rather be employed. But, since that’s not in my immediate future, I’ll entertain myself by calling out the government on a semi-weekly basis. If not on the blog, then certainly in email. And, very likely, both. And that’s the bright side. Who wants to play beat the premier?

My second open letter to Ontario members of parliament.

Two weeks ago, I sent the first of my letters to Ontario’s members of parliament. Specificly, I emailed the premier, the minister of community and social services, my local conservative member of parliament, and the leaders of both the conservatives and the NDP. I went into quite a bit of detail on the specifics of our problems with the way current disability arangements are set up. Surprisingly enough, the best response came from an unlikely source–the NDP, who actually went so far as to tell me roughly what they’d do differently were they in government. I picked it apart yesterday. There was even less to pick apart from the liberals, who basicly said “So noted.”, or the conservatives, who said absolutely nothing. So, I fired off this one just this morning.

Subject: Further to my letter (Disability Does Not Equal Poverty – 3/12/2010)

Honourable members,

On March 12 of this year, I wrote a letter to each and every one of you, and challenged you to establish a dialogue as to what can be done to address the currently unacceptable inequality between those of us living on disability support and those of us able to land at least minimum wage employment. In the time that has past since that letter, I have received what at best can be described as a minimalistic response. Since our brief exchange re: Ontario disability Support Program, the provincial budget was released, and appropriately criticised for its shortcomings in this area.

As stated in my original letter, on March 31 of this year, the seventh in a string of increases will be applied to the minimum wage, effective immediately. That increase, an addition of 75 cents per hour, amounts to a total of approximately 27 dollars more based upon a 37-hour work week, or 111 dollars extra per month. In contrast, the Ontario Disability Support Program is to see its monthly distribution to recipients increased by a far less than encouraging 1 percent, or 10 dollars extra, as of the fall of this year.

This only serves to further widen, not narrow, the gap between Ontario’s disabled population and those able enough to find at least a minimal amount of work. It additionally runs the risk of further raising the poverty line, putting it that much farther out of the reach of those of us under these restrictions.

As I have done in my previous letter, I would like to take the opportunity to encourage all parties to establish a dialogue in order to address an obvious underfunding of services crutial to many of Ontario’s disabled and their ability to live independantly while at the same time attempting to find work, so as to remove themselves from the need for further ODSP services. Credit should be given, at least in part, to the leader of the NDP, who has at the very least indicated the willingness to explain what if any action they would be willing to initiate were they given the opportunity to govern. I had hoped to see a similar response from Ontario’s liberal party, however I was instead greeted by a response which, summarized, amounted to little more than “We’ll take it under advisement.”. I received less than that from Ontario’s conservative party, including Pembroke and area’s local member of provincial parliament. This demonstrates to me an unwillingness by the two parties in question to discuss the issue of what amounts to financial handycapping, despite evidence indicating the problem not only exists but is worsening. This will not by any means correct the problem as it stands now.

Once again, I would encourage extensive conversation regarding this issue, which will hopefully lead to equally extensive measures in rectifying the financial situation faced by disabled individuals, who are quite capable of working but simply have not been hired, across the province. I would be more than willing to have this conversation with anyone with an interest, and in so doing, provide them with the information necessary to obtaining a closer look at the precise limitations placed on Ontario’s disabled due to the present situation. This includes, but is not limited to, a glaring disconnect in the realistic financial requirements of a disabled individual needing to provide shelter for him/herself and the allowance for same provided under the Ontario Disability Support Program.

This is a conversation that absolutely must happen, most especially in order to minimize if not negate completely the dependence on other social systems, such as subsidized housing, which are already under significant strain (see: subsidized housing waiting list in Renfrew county, currently 2-4 years, or subsidized housing waiting list, Ottawa and area, currently 4-8 years). Only through extensive dialogue can problems such as this be addressed, and ultimately solved. I would therefore again encourage everyone named in this letter to become actively involved in this dialogue. Failure to address an issue of this magnitude will amount to a failure to provide affordable living for all Ontarions, and is unacceptable at the absolute minimum. I look forward to seeing the beginning of a hopefully educational dialogue on the ODSP issue in the near future. Thank you in advance for your time, and I will appreciate your prompt feedback concerning the matter in question.

Sincerely,
James Homuth
Petawawa Ontario
(Contact info removed from this version–I hate spam)

It’s actually quite sad that the NDP, who I have very little really in common with, gets this more than the other two appear to so far. There’s a large as hell problem cropping up here. Well, okay, it’s been cropping up since at least as long as I’ve been legally old enough to actually be affected by it. Sad part is, for at least that long, no one’s really been open to the idea of talking about it. Kind of like it’s one of those things you kind of toss onto the back burner in the hopes some seemingly larger problem will come up and divert attention away from it. Then, once that’s done, you can safely tuck it under the nearest piece of carpet or something and forget about it. It’s worked for this long–folks have been more than willing to forget about it. Now, let’s see if we can try and convince some of these folks that actually talking about it is the better way to go. Or, at the very least, I’ll just keep periodically bouncing something off their mailboxes. Sooner or later, someone’ll get tired of seeing my name show up. Tired enough to talk about it? Could happen.

Deconstructing the NDP’s response to my open letter.

So far, the only other person to respond to my email thus far is the NDP. Or rather, the NDP leader’s corespondence officer. Who, apparently, didn’t quite get all her information accurate. But, one step at a time. What does miss Andrea’s corespondence officer have to say?

Dear Mr. Homuth,

Thank you for your email to Andrea Horwath expressing your views concerning Social Assistance.

Ontario’s New Democrats have called the McGuinty government to task many times over the past six years on its failure to provide adequate supports to Ontario’s most vulnerable people. Sadly, not much has changed for our poorest people. The promised review of social assistance rates has not yet occurred, tens of thousands languish on waiting lists for affordable housing and we have yet to see a significant number of public child care spaces increase.

Not overly concerned with childcare spaces over here, but I’ll ignore that. Clearly, not much has changed. Scream a little louder, please?

The NDP continues to be vocal in the Legislature and across Ontario in an effort to force this government to take real action to alleviate poverty.

I’d be interested to see the definition of “real action” according to all three parties. But I’ll settle for the NDP’s definition. Particularly since my own local, conservative MPP has yet to respond, nevermind his party leader.

That’s why the NDP called for the following amendments to Bill 152:

Adding as a goal to work for a poverty-free Ontario

Recognizing the right of all Ontarians to an adequate income, decent housing, healthy food, and fair paid employment

Require the creation of a Poverty Reduction Commission (including people living in poverty and other key stakeholders) to independently report on the government’s progress in reducing poverty each year

Require that the Minister reports to the legislature on progress each year

Including adequate funding for proper consultation

Require that poverty reduction strategies:

address all people living in poverty – not just one sub-group
address income support, labour market participation, food access, affordable housing and other causes of poverty
Set a long term poverty reduction target that goes further than 25% in five years

As a health care professional, you know that poverty is the root cause of many serious health problems and we thank you very much for taking the time to write and for your hard work and support.

Healthcare professional? I’m an ODSP recipient. Big difference.

Please visit www.ontariondp.com to learn more about how the NDP Caucus is fighting for Ontarians in our communities and at Queen’s Park.

Sincerely,

Ezia Cervoni,

Leader’s Correspondence Officer

I don’t want to visit a website to learn what you’re planning to do. Nor do I want to visit the government’s website to learn what they want to do. I want two-way dialogue here. The ruling parties have the money. Or, at least, the ministries overseen by the said parties have the money. We, meaning the people receiving said money, know where it needs to be put and in what quantity. All that has to happen is the conversation. One of us is making that attempt. Let’s see how far it goes.

My now open letter to Ontario’s government, and the premier’s response.

I’ve mentioned already that if you’re on disability in Ontario, you’re almost getting the shaft so far as actual help to do anything without needing to rely on help, financial or otherwise, from friends/family/whatever. In this letter, sent to Ontario’s ruling parties, I mentioned it to them in far more simple terms. So far, response has been rather minimal.

Subject: Disability Does Not Equal Poverty

Honourable members,

I write you today to bring to your attention what I had hoped initially might have been a grave oversight in the administration of the Ontario Disability Support program (ODSP). Presently, minimum wage in Ontario is scheduled to undergo a 75 cent increase on the 31st of March. This would be the seventh such minimum wage increase since the McGuinty government took office in 2004, and would bring the wage to $10.25 per hour–a nearly 43 percent increase in a 6-year period. In the same length of time, however, ODSP payments have seen an increase of slightly more than 100 dollars, or approximately 10.5 percent.

These statistics constitute a grose imbalance between those Ontarions restricted in their employment options due to a disability and those capable of filling any minimum wage position. Additionally, it strips many of the disabled of their independence by forcing them to rely on the support and shelter of family/friends due to the inability to aford living on their own. The difference, which is the difference in some cases between poverty and independence, is 500 dollars based on a standard 37.5-hour work week. A disabled individual living on the current level of ODSP will most likely not continue to remain self-sufficient based on current cost of living trends.

I speak on this matter as one of the said disabled individuals affected by the imbalance between current established minimums and those available to the disabled via the ODSP. Living presently in Petawawa, after being forced to leave Ottawa due to my inability to aford to remain, I now reside in an apartment who’s rent is still approximately $100 above the current allowance for shelter of $465–presently, it is the lowest rent available to me without the assistance of subsidised housing. The rent does not include heat and/or electricity, which brings total expenses paid well above $100 over the allowance for basic shelter. Transportation costs then must come out of my allowance for food/clothing, along with payment of necessary expenses not currently considered necessary under the ODSP (E.G. telephone). As Pembroke/Petawawa does not have a public transit system, transportation costs will vary depending on several conditions including: where i’m going, how far away, how frequently, and whether by family or friends’ vehicles or local taxi services. When expenses are finally alocated to groceries, clothing etc, it would be an understatement to say the remainder of current ODSP payments are spread a little thin.

I find it less than acceptable that able-bodied individuals with little to know limitations applied to their ability to work are able to remain virtually entirely self-sufficient, whereas the disabled who are unable to occupy a position at, for example, McDonalds for the said minimum wage are forced to depend on the support of others in order to establish a degree of independence. Furthermore, I find it even less acceptable that over the past 6 years under this government, the gap between disabled and non-disabled Ontarions has only widened. The disabled do not get discounts on rent, nor do we get a similar discount on electricity, groceries, transportation, or any other item easily aforded by those individuals earning minimum wage. And yet we are expected to pay equal prices for equal services on significantly less income. Disability should not equate to poverty, however under the current system as it stands right now, that is precisely what it equates to. If the minimum wage was adjusted in order to allow Ontarions to maintain the ability to cope with the increase in cost of living and inflation, payments via ODSP should likewise see a similar increase. A failure to do so should be seen as a failure to provide afordable living for the people of Ontario.

I would be more than happy to have this conversation in a more direct manner with each one of you, should you be so inclined, and provide you with any further information that might assist you in determining the entirety of this issue. If you would like to discuss this matter further, my contact information is below. I will also include for your reading pleasure a link to a website in which many non-disabled individuals not only agree with me, but have performed their own research based on information publicly available to determine for themselves that current support levels are insufficient. Thank you for reading, and I hope we can speak further on this topic.

Additional Information: http://www.knitnut.net/2010/02/do-the-math/

Sincerely,
James Homuth
Petawawa, Ontario
(contact information removed from this version–I hate spam)

It took a couple days, but Dalton McGuinty did eventually get back to me. Or, rather, one of his slightly modified form letters got back to me.

Subject: An e-mail from the Premier of Ontario

Thanks for your online message about the Ontario Disability Support Program. I appreciate your having taken the time to share your valued feedback with me.

Our government remains committed to improving the quality of life for all Ontarians. I note that you have also sent a copy of your e-mail to my colleague the Honourable Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services. I trust that the minister will take your views into careful consideration.

Thanks again for contacting me. Please accept my best wishes.

Dalton McGuinty
Premier of Ontario

c: The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur

While he noticed I sent a copy to his minister of social services, he didn’t exactly prod her in the rear end to get back to me. I’m still waiting, Dalton. In the meantime, let’s talk about that extra $10 you’re giving me in about 8 months. Specificly, let’s make it $500, and effective next month. Deal? Didn’t think so.

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