Ontario unveils social assistance reforms, including change to definition of disability


TORONTO — The Ontario government is bringing in changes to social assistance that critics say will make it harder for people to qualify for disability support.

Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod says the province will align its definition of disability with the federal government’s as part of its overhaul of social assistance.

Ottawa does not have a single definition for what constitutes a disability but opposition legislators say the threshold to qualify for disability benefits under the Canada Pension Plan is higher than it is for the Ontario Disability Support Program.

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MacLeod says those currently receiving disability supports from the province will be grandfathered in but would not say whether fewer would be able to qualify in the future.

The changes announced Thursday will, however, allow people receiving social assistance to keep more of the money they earn.

The province says people on ODSP will be able to earn $6,000 a year without having their support reduced, rather than the current $200 a month. It also says there will be a 25 per cent exemption on earnings beyond $6,000.

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Those receiving support through Ontario Works will be able to take home $300 a month before seeing a drop in assistance, compared with the current $200. They would also have a 25 per cent exemption on any further earnings.

The previous Liberal regime had promised to raise the monthly threshold to $400, with a 50 per cent exemption on any additional earnings.

Thursday’s announcement comes just months after the government moved to cancel a basic income pilot project.

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The government announced in July it was “winding down” a pilot project that provided payments to 4,000 low-income earners in cities such as Hamilton, Brantford, Thunder Bay and Lindsay.

At the time, MacLeod called the program, launched by the Liberals in 2017 and set to run for three years, a “disincentive to get people back to work.”

Anti-poverty advocates denounced the move, with one group pledging to defend against what it called Premier Doug Ford’s “war on the poor.”

The Tories also said they were cutting a planned three per cent increase in social assistance to 1.5 per cent.



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