Ottawa

CERB 'a slap in the face' for Ontarians scraping by on disability payments

Some Ontarians who rely on provincial disability support say the federal government's new emergency benefit for people affected by COVID-19 is laying bare a double standard when it comes to the question of what's considered a livable income.

Federal aid for people affected by pandemic nearly double provincial disability support

Angie Allard doesn’t qualify for the federal CERB payments because she didn’t have any lost income to claim. (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco/CBC)

Some Ontarians who rely on provincial disability support say the federal government's new emergency benefit for people affected by COVID-19 is laying bare a double standard when it comes to the question of what's considered a livable income.

The federal government's Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) provides about $2,000 per month to people who have lost their income because of the pandemic. The maximum amount available through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is just $1,169 a month.

I'm terrified, and so is everybody else who is going through this right now.- Angie Allard, ODSP recipient

"I hope something will come out of this, because so many of us are so close to giving up," said Angie Allard, who survives on ODSP. "I'm terrified, and so is everybody else who is going through this right now."

A collision shattered Allard's vertebrae, leaving her unable to keep her job with an auto company. She went from owning her own home, taking vacations and earning enough to build herself a nest egg to sharing a townhouse with four roommates.

She said ODSP was never much to live on, allowing her just $50 per week for groceries. Now, she said, it's nearly impossible to go from store to store to find the discounted food items that allow her to stay within her meagre budget.

No lost income, no CERB

Like many others on ODSP, Allard doesn't qualify for the federal CERB payments because she didn't have any lost income to claim.

"This CERB thing was a slap in the face for everyone," she said. "It makes me feel like I don't matter because I'm no longer a working part of society … despite the fact that I've paid taxes my entire life, that I've always kept up with my bills, that I've always done what I had to to be a good, hard-working Canadian." 

Ottawa lawyer Ken Pope, whose firm specializes in disability and estate planning, agrees ODSP payments are barely enough for most people to live on.

"It can only be described as inadequate," Pope said, noting ODSP payments have failed to keep up with inflation since the program was introduced in the late 1990s.

"There's been no substantial change in benefits or supports for decades," he said, estimating nearly 380,000 people in Ontario rely on ODSP.

Terrie Meehan runs a support group for Ontario Disability Support Program recipients. (Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco/CBC)

'People are desperate'

A spokesperson for the province said the Ford government increased social assistance rates by 1.5 per cent, and pointed out those on ODSP can access up to $100 for emergency expenses related to the pandemic.

But ODSP recipients, many of whom have compromised immune systems that leave them especially vulnerable to the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, say that's not enough during a public health crisis.

"People are desperate to just survive this," said Terrie Meehan, who runs an ODSP support group. 

"The costs of basic things like toilet paper and hygiene items have gone up, if they're available. Groceries are scarcer, and those costs have gone up. It's kind of scary to take a bus these days."

Allard agrees. She hasn't left home much in the last two months, relying instead on friends and the kindness of strangers. But she fears others aren't so lucky.

"I'm afraid that we're expendable," she said. "I'm afraid that by the end of this I'm going to see a lot of friends who aren't going to make it, who are going to get sick because they have no choice but to go out and get groceries because they can't afford delivery services."

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