Hamilton·Ontario Votes 2022

What's wrong with ODSP? Advocate says rates must be doubled, support should be election issue

With the provincial election officially set to begin Wednesday, those who rely on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) say they're barely scraping by and increasing its rates should be an election issue.

'It’s a choice between food, shelter, clothing,' says Anthony Frisina

Anthony Frisina wants to see ODSP rates improve. (Submitted by Anthony Frisina)

With the provincial election officially set to begin Wednesday, those who rely on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) say they're barely scraping by and increasing rates should be an election issue.

Anthony Frisina was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and has been on ODSP since he was 18.

The 42-year-old uses a wheelchair and is a disability advocate. He's also an author and director of media relations for the Ontario Disability Coalition.

Frisina helped organize speakers for a rally held last Thursday at Queen's Park with the goal of ensuring ODSP is firmly on party agendas ahead of the June 2 provincial election.

He spoke with Ontario Today's Amanda Pfeffer on Tuesday about what's wrong with ODSP.

When you hear from people struggling to live on ODSP, what do you think about?

It's absolutely gut wrenching. For someone like myself who does work part-time, the clawbacks are absolutely ridiculous. To want to live … with respect, honour, integrity and dignity is taken away with those clawbacks. $1100 a month is far too low for people to live on. The federal government set the precedent by stating that those who couldn't work during the pandemic were given the $2,000 [a month for] CERB. [ODSP] should at least be doubled, but to match CERB is ideal as well.

What are you hearing from members of the coalition on this?

Cost of living goes up. Inflation's going up. 2018 was the last increase of ODSP of 1.5 per cent. We were promised three per cent for 2018 and the three subsequent years following that and still nothing.

What was your reaction when the new government came in and cut the three per cent to 1.5?

Absolutely atrocious. It speaks to the inadequacies of the treatment of people with disabilities in our communities. Even throughout the pandemic people with disabilities have been lost in the shuffle. The increase in mental health has been astronomical. People with disabilities are scrambling. They don't know what to do. It's a choice between food, shelter, clothing in a month-to-month basis.

Not enough money for rent, food or medical care. Claw backs and discrimination if you try to work. Anthony Frisina with the Ontario Disability Coalition and Green Party campaign manager Maddy Dever call for an increase in ODSP rates.

What is the rent portion of ODSP set at for a single person?

It's at $497. You really can't get anything at that rate at all. Not to mention something that is a standard to live under. There's not enough subsidized housing, accessible housing, access to appointments, access to medication, access to quality of life.

I've heard municipalities complain about this as well, that because ODSP doesn't meet the needs of people it's coming out of municipal budgets.

That's correct. People with disables just want to live in a standard home …. that meet  the individual's needs.

(Submitted by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

Lets talk about the clawbacks if you do work. Can you explain how it works?

After the first $200 there's clawbacks of 50 cents on the dollar. It is disincentivizing for people to work because of the clawback. You want to be able to bask in the fruits of what labour people with disabilities can do and we want to be able to live a life as best as we can and doing the things we're able to do. It's about matching people with disabilities with jobs that satisfy our abilities and giving us the autonomy and the agency to work within those means.

Any final thoughts?

We need to eradicate the ableism and the assumption that people with disabilities can't work. We have the opportunity to live the quality of life that we'd want to live and not be governed by the government. We deserve a hand up, not a hand out.

CBC asked the four major parties this week if they would raise ODSP.

Ontario's latest budget, which effectively doubles as the election platform for the PC party, doesn't include any increase in ODSP or Ontario Works (OW) payments.

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the government is "investing more in social services," but did not directly address questions about raising ODSP or OW rates.

The NDP said if elected it would immediately raise the rate by 20 per cent and would legislate that they must, at a minimum, keep up with inflation.

The Ontario Greens called the current rates "legislated poverty" and pledged to double ODSP rates as a step toward adopting a basic income.

The Ontario Liberals did not provide exact figures, but a spokesperson said its fully-costed platform is coming will include improving ODSP rates, including  "letting people on ODSP keep more of the employment money they earn."

with files from Ontario Today and Clara Pasieka


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