New social assistance asset test welcome news

The 50 year experiment forcing welfare recipients and low income persons with disabilities into financial destitution finally appears to be over. In Charles Sousa’s Budget 2017, asset limits for single welfare recipients will be raised from $2,500 to $10,000 for a single person and to $11,000 for a lone parent with two children. Persons with disabilities will have their asset limits raised from $5,000 to $40,000 for singles and from $7,500 to $50,000 for couples. The amount families will be able to donate to family members receiving assistance will go from $6,000 a year to $10,000. This is welcome news after the initial moves in 2013 that quadrupled asset limits for single welfare recipients from the equivalent of one month’s assistance (about $650) and allowed families to donate money to…
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A ‘Robin Hood’ Budget for 2016 in Ontario

“Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men Feared by the bad, loved by the good Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood.” In the Budget lockup yesterday, I started to silently sing the Robin Hood song that I learned back in the 1950’s as a kid. Robin Hood was the mediaeval archer who took from the rich and gave to the poor. Robin Hood was brave and Kathleen Wynne may be even braver. There are lots of new sin taxes and levies on the better off that became the fodder for 680 News over the evening and morning hours. There were some great interviews with ‘objective’ listeners who were “unhappy” or who thought the Budget was “ridiculous”. Cigarettes up by three…
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Social Assistance in Ontario: Periods of Tumult and Calm

For the first time in over a year and without much fanfare, the Ontario Government has begun to publish monthly social assistance caseload numbers. One guesses that the reason for the hiatus was the much-reported troubles with their new social assistance computer system called SAMS. The newest figures are for November 2015 and the new charts on the MCSS website include caseload figures going back two years including  the 13 months from November 2014 to November 2015 that were missing. They are here for Ontario Works: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/reports/OW_EN_2015-11.pdf and here for ODSP: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/reports/ODSP_EN_2015-11.pdf This has allowed me to update an excel file which many readers have seen in the past that includes reliable data for the last 35 years (since 1981) for caseloads (payments) , beneficiaries (men women and children receiving assistance), unemployment, and population. Some…
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Time to look at income security for low income older adults with disabilities

One of the long term goals I have for Open Policy is to cover all aspects of income security for all age groups for low income people with and without disabilities. This year, Open Policy managed to add a critical piece with the publication of Every Ninth Child in Ontario: A Cost-Benefit Analysis for Investing in the Care of Special Needs Children and Youth in Ontario with my colleagues Alexa Briggs, Celia Lee, Brendon Pooran and Rene Doucet. Children and youth with disabilities and their income security needs are extremely important and I hope there will be more contributions from my colleagues and I on this front in the future. The following is a chart that I have had in my head for years but I never sat down and…
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Much of my life I have been a struggling low income person: Guest blog by Pamela Chynn

I am talking today as  a struggling  university  and  journalism  student, as  a  person  who has  on and off  been on  social  assistance,  as a person who  has  been  on  unemployment insurance a  few times, as  a  person who  has  a  couple  of times  been technically homeless  and  has  been through the surreal  roller  coaster nightmare  of  couch  surfing, as  a  temp worker, as a minimum  wage  worker and  currently  after  having   endured several  years  of  bullying  that resulted in suffering  a  long  and  hard  battle with  depression  and anxiety - temporarily  on  ODSP. Because of this, I  know  all too  well the  struggles  of  being  in  poverty,  of having  had to live in   inadequate  housing  that was  detrimental  to  both  my  physical , mental and emotional  health, of  having  to…
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No piece of cake! Linda Chamberlain applies for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)

I am supposed to know about retiring on a low income.  That includes obtaining the Guaranteed Income Supplement for people who turn age 65.I am supporting the Old Age Security application of a woman named Linda Chamberlain. She turns 65 on July 3, 2014. This will be in some ways a dress rehearsal for my own application since I turn 65 in August 2015. Right now, Linda has no income other than her ODSP cheque and the odd gift from others.  We did not apply for a meagre amount of CPP.  I wrote about that here:  Linda Chamberlain and CPP Linda’s move to Old Age Security is a good story. Her income will go from about $1,035 a month to $1,700. However, since she lives in subsidized housing, her rent…
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Social assistance numbers in Ontario: Classic convergence or something else?

Currently social assistance beneficiaries (men, women and children over population) hover between 6.5% and 6.6% of Ontario's population. We have remained at this percentage since May 2011 which means that caseloads are at an equilibrium point, a point of relative calm. Since the late 1980's, Ontario's unemployment rate has tended to converge with the percentage of beneficiaries in a post-recession period. It is an odd convergence but it has just reached its silver anniversary of 25 years (the relation first showed strongly in 1988) with May's unemployment rate of 7.3% and social assistance recipiency at 6.6% -- less than a single percentage point. (For details see http://openpolicyontario.com/presentations/.) In June 2009, unemployment stood at 9.6% and social assistance beneficiaries at 6.0% of population. This 3.6% difference in percentage points, interestingly enough, was the largest divergence…
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“Minister Jeffrey: Tear down this wall”

In July 2012, I visited Berlin for the first time since 1972 when the Berlin wall was still standing. It was interesting to see how parts of the wall had been retained as an outdoor museum. No matter where I went, memorabilia celebrating the famous call by Ronald Reagan on June 12, 1987 were available. On that day, Reagan famously intoned “Mr. Gorbachev – tear down this wall”. On June 11, 2013, just one day short of the anniversary of Reagan’s famous speech, many of us will be celebrating the launch of Linda Chamberlain’s scrapbook: Not Anytime Soon – the life and times of Linda Chamberlain. We shall invite Ontario Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey to the event. Not Anytime Soon contains excerpts of a meditation I wrote in 2010 called…
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More thoughts on Ontario social assistance caseloads

Ontario unemployment and SA rates 1981 to 2008, 2009 monthly to February 2013 (Excel file) All appears placid when looking at social assistance beneficiary totals (i.e. men, women and children) in Ontario in early 2013. Since March to May 2012 when several categories in Ontario Works reached post recession highs, the Ontario Works totals have receded by about 12,000 while ODSP has inched up by a similar number over the same period. This means that the percentage of Ontario's population in receipt of social assistance remains stubbornly at about 6.5%, slightly higher than similar periods following major post-war recessions. It would make it easier to understand and communicate if there was one 'magic bullet' that explained it all - but alas, there are many interwoven reasons that explain what's happening 'under…
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An unsustainable program (by Guest blogger Pat Capponi)

It seems simple, and I can understand the frustration as the numbers continue to rise and few people labelled mentally ill appear willing to take the steps necessary to leave the ODSP rolls.  Without knowing this community, their history and their struggles, that frustration will continue. My experience is with those who are labelled seriously mentally ill, with schizophrenia, manic depression, and PTSD,  as well as those with long term addictions to drugs like crack cocaine. In this group, poverty is the norm, days are spent in drop-ins or waiting in packed agencies for assistance that never seems timely or appropriate. These aren't people who can hide the toll taken on their bodies, spirits, minds and hopes by years of exclusion, dependence, and 'otherness'.  They are carrying with them some…
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