Advocates demand apology for Ont. premier's comments to ODSP recipients
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is seen in this photograph. (The Canadian Press)
OTTAWA -- Advocates for recipients of Ontario's Disability Support Program (ODSP) say they want an apology from Premier Doug Ford for comments he made at a press conference earlier this month and they're calling for an increase to monthly payments under the program.
Ford was asked on Aug. 6 why a $100 pandemic relief top up for ODSP recipients was coming to an end. Ford said his goal was to support all people in Ontario, but then claimed that people on the disability program were, in fact, making more money than they were pre-pandemic.
"[T]here's a certain group that are collecting ODSP that have part-time jobs, and if they keep the CERB going and their part-time job, they're actually up a few hundred dollars — not down. But I understand people are struggling, I get it," he said.
Ford then said the "best way" to help people on ODSP and Ontario Works (OW) is to find them a job.
"[T]he best way to help people in Ontario Works or ODSP, if they're healthy and they're able to work, get them a job, help get them a job," the premier said.
Those two statements angered many members of the disabled community and their supporters, including Ottawa Centre NDP MPP Joel Harden, who said he was "sickened" by Ford's comments.
"Premier, do you have any idea what it’s like to live on the Ontario Disability Support Program?" he asked. "You don't like the CERB, I guess, which is $2,000 a month. ODSP is $1,200 a month for individuals. OW is barely 700 bucks a month. Have you ever had to live on that?"
Speaking on Bell Media Toronto's NEWSTALK 1010, Trevor Manson, a secretary for the ODSP Action Coalition called Ford's comments 'disappointing.'
"The number of ODSP recipients that reported income at the end of December 2019 was 42,000 people... out of a program that consists of about half a million people. So only about eight per cent of people on ODSP may have qualified for the CERB," he said.
The CERB is also coming to an end by the end of September, with the federal government transitioning recipients onto the Employment Insurance system.
On Sunday, two ODSP recipients told Bell Media Ottawa's Newstalk 580 CFRA that they want to hear an apology from Ford.
"I really think Doug Ford needs to do a formal apology to the entire disabled community because in the days since that press conference it has been so sad looking over Twitter threads, looking at people hanging on by a thread," said Jessica F.
"If the authorities are telling you, 'You don't matter; just get a job,' and getting a job could mean loss of your health or getting COVID, what are we left with, then?"
Jessica, who chose not to use her last name when speaking with CFRA's "The Goods with Dahlia Kurtz" on Sunday morning, is also calling for an increase to ODSP payments.
"Consider matching ODSP to match CERB since that was a government mandated statement that that $2,000 is what an average adult needs to survive, not including our medical necessities, grocery deliveries, transportation costs and now pandemic supplies to make sure we don't catch COVID."
ODSP's monthly payment is a maximum of $1,169 for individuals.
Another ODSP recipient, John Redins, who spoke on "The Goods", echoed Jessica's comments and also called for an apology from the premier.
Redins, who had a job before the pandemic, is now unemployed because of COVID-19.
"I've worked for two organizations that have sporting events in stadiums, so I'm not allowed to work. Right now, the ODSP payments are not sufficient," he said. "It's been very frustrating the last few months, trying to make ends meet."
A third recipient, Tyler Ennis, told Newstalk 580 CFRA he is currently an inpatient at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, where he recently received a bone marrow stem cell transplant to combat cancer.
"Sadly, my case is not a rare case. Hundreds of thousands, if not more, of Ontarians suffer with compromised immune systems," he said. "We have immune systems so compromised that being in public spaces puts our lives at risk."
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In a statement to CTV News, Palmer Lockridge, a spokesperson for the ministry of children, community and social services said the CERB is considered employment income for the purposes of calculating ODSP benefits.
"To support individuals during the COVID-19 outbreak, our government provided new direction to Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) staff to ensure individuals on social assistance keep much more of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) than they would have under previous rules," Lockridge said.
"Recognizing these unprecedented times, and that the CERB was designed to replace employment income, our social assistance programs are treating it as such. This change has allowed existing clients to partially stack their CERB and social assistance benefits, while maintaining their health and other benefits. The majority of individuals on social assistance who receive the CERB see an increase in their monthly income as a result of this change."
Lockridge did not speak directly to the premier's comments, but said that supporting individuals who are seeking employment is part of their role.
"By connecting individuals to our programs, including employment and training programs, we are ensuring that those who are able to work have the support they need to find and keep a job, advance their careers, and support their family," he said.
The Premier's Office did not respond to a request for comment.