The ODSP Action Coalition has been talking to people in charge of ODSP about many different issues in the past few months. Our Steering Committee, made up of the co-chairs of each of the committees (Public Awareness and Advocacy, Access, Policy and Research, and Earnings and Employment Supports) meets regularly with staff from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to provide input on changes that ODSP is planning. Here is some of the input we have given:
Changes in delivery of benefits
- Reloadable bank cards cheques for recipients who don’t have direct deposit: Coalition members agree these might help people forced to use payday loan companies who charge horribly high interest rates to cash cheques. We stated ODSP must be flexible and keep paper cheques for those who have problems dealing with the cards, or who don’t have a RBC branch in their community. We also asked that assistance be provided to help people get ID so they can open bank accounts.
- OHIP cards rather than paper drug card for getting prescriptions filled. Many recipients like this because they won't have to keep track of a paper drug card, and can go to more than one pharmacy. But we are concerned about those who lose OHIP cards or can’t get one; these people need a quick way to ge tthe prescription drugs their health and life depends on.
- Changing date December cheque is issued: the ODSP cheque which people get for the end of December is currently sent or deposited before Christmas. That means that people have to stretch their money for 6 weeks, until the end of January, and so some it should be sent or deposited on December 31. MCSS asked our opinion; we did not take a position because we know many people like it before Christmas and others want it changed. They agreed not to change it this year but to consult more widely before possibly making that change next year.
- Whenever we meet with MCSS we also discuss problems people have when dealing with their local ODSP offices and caseworker. MCSS says they are working to improve customer service; for example they are monitoring workers’ response time to phone calls (anyone ever have the problem of workers not returning calls?). Our Access committee is planning to press for action on more customer service issues in the coming months.
Employment Strategy for Persons with Disabilities
Coalition members recently had a chance to provide input into the development of an Employment Strategy for Persons with Disabilities. The key messages we delivered were:
- Employment for people on ODSP must always remain voluntary—there is no “work assessment test” that can tell when or how much a person with a disability is able to work.
- Employment supports need to be tailored to the individual needs, skills and abilities of people, with adequate funding so that employment agencies do not “cream” only the most job-ready people and offer only low wage, low skilled work.
- Much more has to be done to educate employers about their responsibilities to accommodate people with disabilities. In “selling” the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, government and advocates must be realistic about the fact that some people do require flexibility in scheduling and other accommodations.
- An Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities cannot work unless the government also addresses minimum wage and Employment Standards issues. Too many of the jobs available are precarious low wage jobs; these will not lift anyone, with or without a disability, out of poverty.
- Self-employment could be a good option for many people with disabilities as they can determine their own hours and fit the work to their own abilities. However, the current ODSP rules make it very hard for anyone on ODSP to earn a reasonable income through self-employment. MCSS has been ordered by the Human Rights Tribunal to make changes to their Self-Employment directive. Our Coalition will meet again with ODSP policy makers to suggest ways they could improve this.
Basic Income Pilot Project
Our recipient chair, Kyle Vose, met with Hugh Segal who is writing a report for the Ontario government on options for setting up a pilot project for a Basic Income Benefit. The Basic Income is an idea that has been around a long time, but recently has been getting a lot more attention. It refers to a payment to people that is supposed to provide a certain level of income without any strings attached, unlike the current complicated and stigmatizing rules in OW and ODSP.
Basic Income has been supported by people on both the left and right. Some conservatives like it because they want smaller government and to get rid of the services and administration costs of all the different social programs. Some anti-poverty advocates feel a basic income--or guaranteed adequate income, if done right, could lift people out of poverty.
Kyle stressed that the key in the design of any Basic Income is to ensure that it raises incomes and actually lifts people out of poverty. No one should be worse off. It is also important to ensure that necessary supports and benefits are still provided, like health benefits, special diet, medical transportation, surgical supplies, wheelchair repairs, etc.
Disability Adjudication Working Group--Medical Reviews
Our Policy committee co-chair, Patricia Smiley, participated in a group including health professionals, legal clinic staff, and disability organizations that met with MCSS officials to recommend a better process for doing medical reviews. A medical review is when someone on ODSP has to essentially re-apply and prove all over again that they are disabled. Up until now that was done using the same lengthy complicated forms their doctor had to fill out for the original application. The Ministry has now agreed that their should be a simpler process that asks the doctor whether or not the person has improved. If they have not improved they will stay on ODSP. If they have improved, then they will provide more details to show that they are still disabled despite some level of improvement.
The new process and forms are expected to begin this fall. The Disability Adjudication Group will continue meeting to advise MCSS on how to improve the initial application forms.