Open Letter Regarding COVID-19 Support for Ontarians with Disabilities

  • Provincial News

Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services

Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues

Dear Ministers,

As we continue to live under the COVID-19 pandemic, it has long been clear that Ontarians with pre-existing conditions are particularly vulnerable to serious health outcomes from a COVID-19 infection.

For the thousands of Ontarians and their dependents who rely on ODSP, this is a particularly challenging time. The program offers income support to recipients far under the poverty level, and social assistance recipients are key clients of food banks in our city. Under the pandemic, these constraints have only worsened and food bank reliance has risen sharply across Ontario.

However, as ODSP recipients struggle to keep themselves safe and healthy during the second wave of the pandemic, Minister Dunlop rose in the legislature and referred to employment and training supports available to ODSP recipients.

We, as members of the Ontario Liberal Caucus found the Minister’s response out of touch and unacceptable. Workforce training is not an acceptable alternative to providing livable supports to our most vulnerable members of society, and neither is turning a blind eye to the intersecting issues of poverty, health, and disability for Ontarians who rely on ODSP. As a first step, we are calling on Minister Smith to immediately reinstate the COVID-19 top-up funds which help ease the financial burdens imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the outset of the pandemic, MPP Mitzie Hunter wrote to Minister Smith to request that the CERB benefit not be clawed back for ODSP recipients who would have qualified to receive the full amount. MPP Hunter also requested that the much smaller benefit, a top-up of between $100-200 be applied automatically and universally, without the need to administrative burden for individuals contact caseworkers who are overstretched and less accessible during a pandemic. However, clawbacks on CERB income have continued and the small top-up funds have been allowed to expire without replacement, all as the pandemic continues to impact the health and economy of Ontario. MPP Collard has also written twice requesting same relieves.

Your government has allowed a two-tiered system of social services system to take place in Ontario. This discrepancy has threatened the safety, wellbeing, and dignity of many Ontarians living with pre-existing conditions and long-term disabilities across this province. Workforce training won’t fix this injustice: modern ODSP supports, which provide recipients with the funds needed to live in safety and with dignity is the only answer.

Promoting the safety and dignity of ODSP recipients also means making overdue improvements to the collection and publication of COVID-19 data tracking Ontarians living in congregate care settings. The province must focus oversight, transparency, and attention to the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks within congregate care settings housing Ontarians with pre-existing conditions. We are calling on the Minister to publish the daily data reporting of COVID-19 cases in congregate care settings, so we avoid the tragic situation we saw at Participation House in Markham.

We strongly urge your government to make overdue modernizations to ODSP benefits to allow vulnerable Ontarians to safely face the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and further commit to keeping all vulnerable Ontarians safe by improving the oversight and transparency of group homes and congregate care settings by collecting and reporting COVID-19 data in these settings.

Everyone in Ontario deserves to live in dignity and in safety. Now more than ever, our province needs to take urgent action to protect Ontarians with disabilities from the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sincerely,

Lucille Collard, MPP Ottawa-Vanier

Michael Coteau, MPP Don Valley East

Mitzie Hunter, MPP Scarborough-Guildwood

Amanda Simard, MPP Glenngarry-Prescott-Russell