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Briefing Note

October 29, 2012

Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario: Report Recommendations and Next Steps AOHC has a mixed review for the report released last week by The Commission for the Review of Social Assistance. We support a number of the report’s 108 recommendations related to Employment Supports and Social Assistance rules and will be calling on the government to implement these recommendations immediately. We support the Commission’s recommendation to immediately increase the single adult Ontario Works (OW) rate by $100 a month. However we oppose recommendations related to the “streamlining” of social assistance special benefits and eliminating of the Special Diet Allowance. A guiding principle must be that rate increases should not be offset by cuts to other benefits. Still other of the report’s recommendations require more careful analysis to ensure that people would actually be better off as a result of the proposed changes. This briefing note provides an overview of key recommendations, our response, as well as follow-up actions you can take to ensure the provincial government takes appropriate follow-up action. Despite concerns about some of the report’s recommendations, it must not sit on the shelf. It’s been over 20 years since the government reviewed Social Assistance and the worst thing that could happen is nothing at all.

Recommendations that AOHC supports: Rates:  Immediate rate increase of $100/month recommended for single adults on OW as a down payment on adequacy while the system undergoes transformation (current rate is $599/month). We support this recommendation. But it should not be funded partly through the elimination of Special Diet Allowance. (see below) Employment Supports  Strengthened supports that enable people on social assistance to be employed and access Employment Ontario training programs.  Strengthened employment supports for people with disabilities.  Municipalities would become full partners with the Province in managing and planning employment services in their communities, with more municipalities designated by the Province as Employment Ontario deliverers. If implemented effectively these changes should help support people transition off social assistance and into the workforce. 1


Changes in Social Assistance Rules:   

Increase the assets that people are allowed to keep before accessing OW to the higher level allowed now for ODSP clients (ie. $6,000 for singles, and $7,500 for couples). Increase earnings exemptions allowing people to keep $200 of earned income before the 50% clawback kicks in. Allow parents to keep 50% of their child support, and not require sole support parents to seek child support.

The recommendations will increase social assistance incomes; the Ontario government should implement them immediately. Health-related benefits  Examine ways to make prescription drugs, dental and other health benefits available to all low income Ontarians. First Nations  Recognizing that First Nations have unique needs and priorities, the report recommends First Nations have flexibility to define employment-related activities for social assistance clients in their communities. It also calls for tripartite discussions to explore a greater role for First Nations to design and manage social assistance in their communities.

Recommendations AOHC does not support: Rates:  As part of a new simplified rate structure an estimated 30 social assistance benefits would be “streamlined”. This would include elimination of the Special Diet Allowance. Rate increases should not be funded through cuts to other benefits and so we are concerned about the proposal to streamline 30 benefits. In particular we do not support cutting the Special Diet Allowance. This will undermine people’s health. We seek assurance the proposed changes will leave people better off with incomes, indexed to inflation, that meet the real costs of living. Recommendations that require further analysis and consultation: Calculation of Rates:  The commission recommends the rate structure be simplified so there is one standard rate for all adults. People with disabilities would receive a disability supplement; families with children and sole-support parents would also receive a supplement.  Going forward the commission recommends the government set criteria and a methodology for setting social assistance rates. The commissioners propose that the government develop a new “Basic Measure of Adequacy” based on the costs of food, clothing and footwear, basic personal and household needs, transportation and shelter in different Ontario regions. The commission recommends that rates then be calculated in a way that achieves balance between three objectives: the new Basic Measure of Adequacy; fairness between social assistance clients and low wage workers; and financial incentives for social assistance clients to seek employment.

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AOHC believes these recommendations require more study because it is unclear whether the methodology the Commission proposes will actually lead to people on social assistance being better off. Program Delivery  The Commission has recommended that Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) be integrated into one program that provides income and services to all social assistance recipients. The new program would be delivered by municipalities and First Nations.  A Provincial Commissioner of Social Assistance would be appointed to work with municipalities, First Nations and other stakeholders to establish performance measures, and track progress with annual reports. AOHC believe the recommendation to integrate OW and ODSP into one program requires further analysis and consultation with those who would be affected. For example, the ODSP Action Coalition has expressed concern that people with disabilities could be negatively affected by these changes. Bringing in a Commissioner of Social Assistance and setting performance measures for program delivery agents should ensure greater accountability in the system. Actions you can take: AOHC is encouraging our members to participate in activities that will push the government to take positive action with respect to social assistance rates. The current fiscal climate will lead to inertia, so it’s important to keep the issue alive. Over the next few months, there are number of opportunities to get social assistance and poverty eradication on the political agenda. Here are some things your centre can do to feed into the process: 1. Raise the issue of Social Assistance at local meetings:  CHCs/AHACs/CFHTs/NPLClinics can partner with local anti-poverty organizations to hold community meetings where the social assistance report recommendations are discussed and better understood. 2. Input to Ontario budget:  In the lead-up to the spring budget, anti-poverty groups, including AOHC, are meeting to analyze the report with a view to identifying a consensus position on how to respond to the Commission’s report and what anti-poverty measures to press forward. Please send us your ideas that we can fold into discussion by the AOHC Poverty Eradication Reference Group. 3. Advocacy to influence party election platforms:  Similarly, anti-poverty groups are meeting to identify key planks on poverty eradication, social assistance, and health equity that we want to see in party platforms, and will then meet with each party to advocate for inclusion. AOHC will be participating in this advocacy work.  At the local level AOHC members can take these same steps and echo the platform asks with your local MPP and other party candidates. _______________________________________________________ Prepared by: Jacquie Maund jacquie@aohc.org AOHC Policy and Government Relations Lead

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