This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should contact a lawyer to determine your legal rights and obligations.
Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program Update
Last month the Liberal government delivered on its promise to raise the Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefit rates by 3%. A single person on OW is now entitled to a maximum of $536 per month and a single person on ODSP is now entitled to a maximum of $959 per month. As can be seen from the amount of actual benefit dollars, the level of benefits makes it difficult to survive in the current cost environment. Many people in Ontario on assistance spend upwards of 80% of their benefits on housing, leaving little for food and clothing.
Although this increase is a step in the right direction, it is only a start, especially since this is the first change in benefit levels since benefits were reduced by over 20% in the mid nineties. The Ontario Coalition for Social Justice has launched an “Ontario Needs a Raise Campaign”. More information may be obtained by calling 416-441-3714 or on the web at www.ocsj.ca.
Some other improvements in the OW and ODSP were made in December of 2004. These include:
- Liens – People will no longer have to consent to liens on their residences in order to be entitled to benefits. This has been a contentious issue for OW recipients because they have been forced to use the equity in their homes to secure the repayment of OW benefits. The equity in their homes is often the only nest egg available to them to assist in retirement and other financial needs. The result of the rule change is that applicants for benefits will no longer be required to consent to a lien. For recipients who currently have liens against their residences, the liens will only be discharged at the request of the recipient. Therefore, if you have an OW lien against your home you should contact OW immediately, in writing, to request the discharge or cancellation of the lien.
- Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) – This benefit replaces the Community Start-Up Benefit (CSUB). The CSUMB has been expanded to provide funds if a recipient needs to pay rent arrears in order to avoid being evicted or pay utility arrears or reconnection fees, in addition to moving costs. However, unless there are exceptional circumstances, the CSUMB is payable only once every 24 months rather than once every 12 months as was the case with the CSUB.
- Financial eligibility for OW and ODSP is based on the level of assets and amount of other income received. The following are examples of things that are no longer treated as assets or income for purposes of eligibility. This means that one is able to have these assets or income without losing benefits or being denied assistance.
- Non-Economic Loss (NEL) awards – Injured workers can now keep the NEL award they receive for permanent impairment under the workers’ compensation scheme, up to a maximum amount of $25,000 (OW) or 100,000 (ODSP).
- Damage Awards for loss of care, guidance and companionship of a spouse or parent under the Family Law Act – Families who lose a spouse or parent, and get damages from a court for loss of care, guidance or companionship, can now keep these awards up to a maximum amount of $25,000 (OW) or $100,000 (ODSP).
- Gifts totaling up to $5,000 a year – ODSP recipients and their dependents can each receive gifts totaling $5,000 in a given year. Under the old rules, the limit was $4,000.
If you have any questions about the changes to OW and ODSP or you would like information on other changes, please contact the legal clinic.
- Peter Graham, Lawyer