The intention behind the ODSP was admirable. Unfortunately, it has evolved into a system that penalizes recipients and makes it extremely difficult to form long term relationships or support families.
By Doreen Nicoll
Published February 12, 2015
Since 2008, the third Monday in February has been Family Day in Ontario.
A nicely-timed break in our very long winters, Family Day gives us a chance to get out and have fun together. Many families will go skating, see a movie, visit the local art gallery or museum - especially if the cost of admission is reduced or free. It's a chance to share some hot chocolate or popcorn or have lunch out.
Well, that's not necessarily true if your parent is receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments.
The intention behind the ODSP was admirable. It was created to help people with disabilities in financial need pay for living expenses like housing, food and transportation. Unfortunately, it has evolved into a system that penalizes recipients and makes it extremely difficult to form long term relationships or support families.
ODSP rules state that if you are living with a spouse, your combined income and assets will be assessed to determine whether you qualify for financial assistance as a couple.
ODSP requires notification as soon as two adults move in together. After three months, they are asked for information that will be used to determine if the adults are a couple according to ODSP rules.
If it's decided they're partners, the couple is reassessed to determine if they still qualify for assistance. If one or both no longer qualify, assistance is terminated.
This process can be revisited at any time in the future, in case the nature of the relationship changes.
Under Ontario Family Law, you are considered common-law spouses after living together three years. Most federal laws and programs consider you common-law spouses after one year. (An Introduction to Family Law in Ontario, Community Legal Education Ont., Nov. 2012)
Yet ODSP considers you a couple after only three months. This quick money grab, put in place during the Harris government, needs to be repealed.
A couple in which both spouses are disabled receives $1,153 a month to cover basic needs. The maximum shelter allowance for two people is $729. That means the total monthly income for disabled couples should be $1,882.
However, ODSP rules [PDF] set a monthly maximum of $1,742 for couples, unless they qualify for additional supplements. The amount of income support couples receive is less than the total amount that they would get as individuals.
This rule penalizes disabled people who are or would like to become partners. It also fails to acknowledge that two disabled persons may have additional costs due to their individual disabilities. It's time to rescind this cap and provide basic needs as a straightforward doubling of the single person rate.
Someone receiving ODSP might decide to share accommodation with a roommate in order to afford better housing, more food or bus tickets. Well, that won't happen.
A single parent may try to reduce costs by sharing a place with another adult with no children. Both sign a lease as tenants. It would reasonable to split the rent two-thirds for the family, and one-third for the single adult.
ODSP rules state that each adult is expected to pay an equal share of the rent. The family on ODSP will be given the amount equal to one half the total monthly housing expense when they're actually paying two-thirds of the cost.
If they choose to continue this living arrangement, money will need to be diverted from food, transportation and other expenses to cover their housing costs.
If you're a single parent living on ODSP and you receive child support payments, ODSP will claw back the entire amount. The provincial government has suggested that it may allow lone parents to keep the first $200 of their child support each month and then claw back 50 percent.
If both parents are on ODSP, child support is deducted from the payor's monthly ODSP payments and clawed back from the parent who should be receiving child support. How does that benefit children living 29 percent below the poverty line?
From February 12 to February 17, please encourage social media users to send messages to the Minister of Community and Social Services through Twitter and Facebook @HelenaJaczek to #haveaheartODSP this family day!
After all, everyone deserves a little bread and roses.
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