Ontario's redesigned autism program will cost about $300M more than current budget
Social services minister announced changes last week after parents protest against original plan
Ontario's redesigned autism program prompted by parent protests will cost at least $600 million a year, says the social services minister.
A new $321-million program announced last month by Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod sparked protests by parents, who said the fact that the funding wouldn't be based on individual need — instead, dependent only on age and family income — would mean many kids would be left without access to the therapy they need.
After six weeks of sustained pressure from parents and advocates, MacLeod announced changes last week. Income testing is being eliminated, more services are being made eligible, such as speech and occupational therapy, and most significantly, MacLeod said she will explore how best to provide additional supports based on diagnosed needs.
The exact budget will be determined after MacLeod and her staff spend the next several months consulting with parents and other groups, but the minister gave the legislature a ballpark figure Tuesday.
Premier approved larger budget
"Under the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, that [budget] will be over $600 million," MacLeod said.
"The email in question was sent out by the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, and it was sent out because we're
proud that we're going to be eliminating the wait-list for 23,000 children," MacLeod said.
MacLeod's comments came after she said Monday that the autism program could have "up to double" the current budget.
The minister had previously stood firmly by her original autism plan, saying she couldn't put more money toward it because it would mean taking funds away from other social services within her ministry, such as programs for domestic violence victims.
The elimination of income testing for the program means that all kids under six diagnosed as on the spectrum will receive $20,000 and kids over six will receive $5,000. The plan as originally designed would only give those maximum amounts to families making under $55,000.
But advocates note that intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year, so they are keenly awaiting details of needs-based funding.
Ontario's financial accountability office agreed earlier this month to a request by a Liberal to investigate claims by the
Progressive Conservative government about the size of the autism program budget.