April 22nd, 2021
Hon. Todd Smith
Minister of Children, Community and Social Services
438 University Ave.
Toronto, ON M5G 2K8
Dear Minister Smith,
I am writing you today to urge you to re-evaluate your ministerial decision to download the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) onto municipalities. Municipalities across Ontario cannot afford to take on the responsibility of the cost of the program. Municipalities are struggling due to the pandemic. Windsor alone is currently facing a deficit of nineteen million dollars by the end of the fiscal year.
Automation of services is not the answer. The high success rate of appeals to the Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT) suggests problems with the application process and the initial adjudication of applications. Automation will only exacerbate this issue and increase the number of appeals to the SBT meaning that this is not a cost savings measure. Currently it can take years for an appeal process through the SBT. All while people that count on and have every right to the program have to wait without crucial support. They will continue to live in poverty without recognition of their disabilities.
Every Ontarian has a right to access the SBT, and to receive a timely decision. Yet I have heard from constituents and appellants who are facing barriers to access. As you know, many of the individuals attempting to access the SBT are living with a disability or chronic illness, may lack access to technology or legal support, and are also dealing with the many challenges of living through the pandemic.
Earlier this year my colleagues MPP Taras Natyshak, MPP Percy Hatfield, and I wrote a letter to your ministry outlining the requirement of social assistance recipients to have internet access. Many social assistance recipients do not have access to the technology or internet due to the low income they receive. Given that the rate of inflation continues to increase, and the allotment for basic needs is barely enough for groceries, phone bills, hydro, etc., many individuals in receipt of social assistance are not able to cover the cost of internet. Internet has become a vital service and should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their income, geographic location, and health status. Digitizing the application process and how clients access their benefits is not an accessible option for this vulnerable population.
Casework requires human interaction. My office hears frequently from many social assistance recipients that have issues with their case, some are minor while others are major concerns. My office is able to contact our local ODSP office and speak with a caseworker to resolve the issues. This requires human interaction with the local caseworkers and managers. If there is an amalgamation of ODSP and Ontario Works hundreds of essential caseworkers across the province will lose their jobs.
Also, it important to note is that ODSP is a fundamentally different program than Ontario Works. The goal of Ontario Works is to find sustainable work and facilitate moving recipients off of social assistance. That model does not work for clients that have disabilities. Many ODSP recipients start on Ontario Works and must unjustly fight for their rightfully qualified support from the ODSP program. While some people on ODSP can work regularly or intermittently, many cannot due to their disability and should not have to continuously justify why they cannot work. I hope you take these concerns into consideration while moving forward.
MPP Windsor West