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British Columbia

ODSP earning exemption increases but it’s not as beneficial as it seems: advocates

OTTAWA — On some days Terrie Meehan eats just one meal a day for long distances to expand her food supply. The $1,100 a month she gets from the Ontario Disability Support Program just doesn’t go far.

OTTAWA — On some days Terrie Meehan eats just one meal a day for long distances to expand her food supply.

The $1,100 a month she gets from the Ontario Disability Support Program just doesn’t go far.

That won’t change for Meehan — or the vast majority of Ontarians who receive aid under the program — when the Ontario government begins today allowing recipients to make more money from the work before they receive their benefits reclaim.

The change will allow ODSP recipients to earn $1,000 through work, up from $200 previously. For every dollar earned above the $1,000 exemption limit, the disabled person would keep 25 cents.

But like Meehan, 95 percent of ODSP recipients will see no change in their monthly income as a result. She said many of her friends are in the same boat as her and she wasn’t sure what she thought of the change in government.

“I feel suspicious … if this administration is very punishing for those of us who are in need of assistance,” Meehan said.

In addition to her ODSP benefit, she makes a few hundred dollars a month by picking up gig jobs when she can, such as: B. Using their wheelchair to deliver Uber Eats.

After paying her monthly bills and medication and groceries, she said she has maybe $200 left over most months. Sometimes it’s less.

“I can’t get enough,” Meehan said. “I was thinking earlier today about how long it would take me to pay off a payday loan.”

The Ontario Auditor General said 510,000 people received ODSP assistance in 2018-19. When the provincial government announced it would increase the income tax allowance, it said it would help 25,000 people.

Trevor Manson, a co-chair of the ODSP Action Coalition and an ODSP recipient, said the exemption will help those who work, but it doesn’t come close to solving the problem faced by many ODSP recipients. He called their situation “legally regulated poverty”.

“We know that the vast majority of people on ODSP are disabled,” Mason said. “So it’s not going to make a huge difference for the vast majority of people in the program.”

In September 2022, the provincial government increased program payments by 5 percent. The change increased the maximum payment by $58 per month to $1,228.

It is adjusted based on June inflation.

Jennifer Robson, associate professor and program director of political management at Carleton University, said the income exemption increase in no way closes the gap to bring ODSP rates to an acceptable minimum.

“In a city like Ottawa, a single person needs a little over $25,000[per year]just to stay below the poverty line,” Robson said.

With the maximum ODSP benefit per month and earning $1,000 from work, the monthly income of a person with ODSP would just barely exceed that.

Robson said Ontario could learn from a pilot program launched in Quebec in January.

The new basic income is aimed at people with severe limitations in their ability to work, including people with disabilities. The base benefit is $1138 per month, but may be higher depending on an individual’s circumstances.

For Meehan, work is a variable thing. She says she never knows what kind of jobs she can get. In December she was able to get a Christmas job and worked every day. But she ended up making too much money, which kept her ODSP payment at $0 in January.

If she could get a permanent part-time job, she would take it immediately.

She paid her rent this week by saving her December income and is nervous about continuing to afford groceries while grocery prices soar.

“I had to make sure I saved the money from December so at least my bills would be paid, food – oh,” Meehan paused. “I’ll find out when I find out.”

“Anyone can get into this situation in a heartbeat for any reason,” Meehan said.

“People can’t choose whether they have a health problem or an accident and can’t work.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 1, 2023.


This story was produced with financial support from Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Cindy Tran, The Canadian Press

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