Kitchener-Waterloo

Could you live on $1,200 a month? ODSP recipients say an increase would give them a better life

Organizations that work with people on social assistance were hoping the Ontario government's budget would include a significant increase. It didn't happen and people living in Waterloo region and Guelph are not happy. Area recipients say an increase in monthly payments would give them a better life

'It's not fun living like this' says Guelph ODSP recipient

People in the area living on ODSP payments say if they were doubled and tied to inflation when it came to raises, that would do a lot to give people hope. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The Ontario government announced this week that it is keeping a promise made earlier this spring to increase the amount people receive through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

But it's a promise people living on the monthly social assistance payments hoped the government wouldn't keep.

The monthly boost of $58.45 is still too low, say advocates and people living on ODSP. Single people receiving ODSP are eligible for $1,169 per month, and slightly more if they're married.

"I'm married and I do get a little bit more now. My rent in Guelph, for a two bedroom, I'm paying $1,375. So my entire ODSP check goes to rent," Mike O'dah ziibing Ashkewe told The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris.

"If it wasn't for the help I receive from my mother-in-law, we would be in a very difficult place due to the nature of my disability. Because I'm a left leg below the knee amputee, finding work is remarkably difficult due to the size of my wheelchair."

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy was asked by a reporter if he would have a good life on $1,200 a month? He replied that the forthcoming increase was a step in the right direction. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A $245-million promise to boost ODSP rates was one of the concrete promises that the PCs made in the spring election. The party said it would increase rates by five per cent and tie future increases to inflation.

It marks the first rate jump in Ontario since 2018, when Premier Doug Ford's government implemented a 1.5 per cent increase, after another campaign trail promise.

Living on $1,200 a month

This week Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy was asked by a reporter if he would be able to live on the same amount of money a single person receives for ODSP.

"The question is what can we do for the people of Ontario that are the most vulnerable?" replied Bethlenfalvy.

"This is a step in the right direction and this is a direction of adjusting it to inflation, in addition to the multiple programs and services that we have to support the most vulnerable."

Across Ontario, more than 500,000 individuals or families count on ODSP for part or all of their income, with 12,852 of them in Waterloo region and 5,862 in Guelph.

Mike Ashkewe of Guelph responds to a question from a CBC reporter.
Mike Ashkewe of Guelph says the extra $58.45 in ODSP payments is a 'slap in the face' for those receiving assistance. He says the rate needs to be doubled and tied to inflation every year. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

'I wouldn't have to struggle on a daily basis'

Manny Temple says a person would have to live on a monthly ODSP payment to truly understand the struggle. Temple, who shares an apartment in Cambridge says a 25 per cent increase in monthly payments would make a real difference.

"I could live by myself. I wouldn't have to struggle on a daily basis. I'd be able to eat better, you know, healthier. Like it's really hard because, you know, a can of stew is expensive nowadays, but that's not really healthy for me, you know? So yeah, 25 per cent is what, $300 a month more," said Temple.

Contribute to the economy

Cait Glasson of Waterloo says an increase would allow her to contribute more to the local economy. She says the rent controlled apartment she has been living in for 16 years takes up most of her cheque. 

Glasson is thankful she has a roommate to help offset the cost of rent, but once food and internet are paid for, there's not much money for anything else.

"The thing that I find most depressing over time is that I can't buy clothes," said Glasson.

"So most of my clothes I bought actually when I had a recent temporary job. And one of the things I did was spend several hundred dollars on clothes because I haven't bought anything for myself in six or seven years as all my clothes had holes."

Cait Glasson says the rent controlled apartment she has been living in for 16 years takes up most of her ODSP cheque.  (Joe Pavia/CBC)

Glasson says the salary she made from that job reduced what she was able to receive from ODSP in a future cheque. O'dah ziibing Ashkewe in Guelph also had his monthly payment clawed back because of work his wife accepted.

"So my wife is a supply teacher and so normally a supply teacher would make about $200 per day. But with me being on ODSP, she makes $100 per day," said O'dah ziibing Ashkewe.

"And if she works a half day, she makes $50. And yet she still has to take all the same risks as other employees of her particular [school] board."

O'dah ziibing Ashkewe wants to see more money invested in affordable, accessible and safe housing — and more compassion from the public at large.

"If I could change one thing [that is] to get rid of this stigma that ODSP is free money. Let me tell you, it's not fun living like this."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Pavia

Reporter/Editor

Joe Pavia is a Reporter/Editor with CBC K-W 89.1 FM. He's normally heard weekdays on The Morning Edition but also covers a wide range of news and feature stories for both radio and web. If you have a story idea, email Joe at Joseph.Pavia@cbc.ca Follow him on twitter @PaviaJoe1964

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