"Disability will still be a life sentence to poverty if this report's recommendations are implemented," says Kyle Vose, co-chair, ODSP Action Coalition.
There are no concrete recommendations to improve the incomes of people with disabilities in "Brighter Prospects", the report presented by Francis Lankin and Munir Sheikh. However, at least the Commission recommends that wherever recipients would lose income as a result of these changes, they will be "grandparented" or allowed to keep their present level of benefits. As well, the current defintion of disability is to be retained.
Some of the many cuts which are recommended include:
"How realistic is it that employers are suddenly going to hire many people with disabilities and offer all the accommodations they need?" Mr. Vose asks.
"The measures in this report seem to be a continuation of the cut to the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit which is taking effect at the end of this year," says Naomi Ives Peak, community legal worker and the Coalition's other co-chair. "This transfer of a so-called 'special benefit' out of social assistance and to municipally-administered homelessness funding is really a cut that will result in thousands more homeless people on our street. The report's proposals to remove other 'special benefits' may also result in more homelessness and more costs for health care and hospitals in the future."
People with disabilities are also very concerned about the provincial ODSP program being downloaded to municipalities. There is already unequal access to discretionary health and employment benefits controlled by municipalities, with recipients in some communities receiving help not available in other areas of the province. Cities have no experience or expertise in supporting the needs of people with disabilities or helping them to find employment. There is also the fear that future provincial governments would find it all too easy to cut funding to municipalities if the local level is running the program.
The one recommendation the Coalition wholeheartedly endorses is the establishment of a stakeholder advisory body, made up of people receiving social assistance and others, to guide the implementation of changes.
The Coalition will be asking all three political parties to commit to not make any cuts or eligbility changes without meaningful consultation. "Nothing About Us, Without Us."