PC changes to disability leave Windsor woman with more questions

For more than two decades, Jolene Brignall has been trying to find full-time work. Instead, she has a hard time making ends meet while on disability support.

Jolene Brignall, 42, has been trying to find full-time work for over two decades

Jolene Brignall, 42, has been struggling to make ends meet while on disability. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Finding full-time work has been a struggle for Windsorite Jolene Brignall, who has been on disability support since 2003.

With changes coming to the social assistance system announced by Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government, Brignall is left with questions.

"It can actually make somebody feel like where am I gonna go now?" she said. "Am I gonna have to sell everything I own, just to pay my bills in one or two months?"

The 42-year-old's two college diplomas, one in administrative assistance and the other in community service work, haven't gotten her anywhere, she said. For over two decades she has tried to get a job at McDonald's, but hasn't been successful.

Brignall, who has a hearing disability and arthritis, explained that she currently gets $930 a month, but after reductions she only takes home $775.

Based on what we've seen this government do, clearly there is a focus of moving folks off of the system.- Joyce Zuk, Family Services Windsor-Essex

One of the updates to the system is to redefine disability so it more closely aligns with the federal government's definition. It's not clear whether this will mean less people will qualify for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

The tweaks to social assistance will also allow welfare recipients who find work to keep more of their earnings before their payments are clawed back. They'll be able to earn up to $300 a month, up from the current exemption of $200 a month. 

Lisa MacLeod, the minister of children, community and social services, said the previous government's system "discouraged initiative" and left people "dependent on government."

Joyce Zuk says she has more questions than answers after Ontario announced its changes to the Ontario Disability Support Program. (CBC News)

However, the executive director of Family Services Windsor-Essex doesn't think the reforms will bring the types of changes needed to people's lives.

"Based on what we've seen this government do, clearly there is a focus of moving folks off of the system," said Joyce Zuk.

Increasing what people can earn by $100 isn't enough "to make a significant difference in the lives of people," who Zuk said would still be living in poverty.

What she would like to see is for the increase for social assistance to go up by 3 per cent, like the Liberals had promised before the election. The PCs announced they were going to lower to increase to 1.5 per cent.

Brignall wants the promised increase as well.

"If it wasn't for my church helping me with food cards once in a while and children's aid helping me with food cards and bus tickets and food banks, I don't know what I would be doing," said Brignall.

"Because I don't get a whole lot."

With files from Katerina Georgieva