Advocacy efforts of health care providers, low-income Ontarians and other organizations has led to the provincial government taking measures to ensure individuals on social assistance will take home more income through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
The province has announced that for existing (prior to March 1) Ontario Works (OW) and all Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) applicants/recipients, CERB payments will qualify for a partial exemption. The first $200, and 50 per cent of each additional dollar received in a month will be exempt. This means clients can partially stack CERB and social assistance payments, and to continue to access health and other benefits while receiving CERB.
Since the federal government announced the CERB income support program for Canadians, stakeholders and income support recipients in Ontario had asked the provincial government for clarification on how CERB would be treated for people on ODSP and OW. The CERB income support provides $500 per week for a maximum of 16 weeks from March 15 to Oct. 3.
On April 7, an umbrella advocacy group, including almost all Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) branches and CMHA Ontario, signed an open letter asking the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services to raise social assistance rates immediately and exempt social assistance recipients from income clawbacks as a result of receiving CERB support.
These issues had taken on extreme urgency due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the immense economic disruption it has caused, which seriously undermined the income security of many on social assistance in Ontario.
A single person in financial need, for instance, can receive up to a total of $733 per month from OW. If that person qualifies as a person with a disability, they can receive up to $1,169 from ODSP. These rates are far below the poverty line of $1,767 per month, which contributes to food insecurity, poor health, and the current homelessness crisis. As a result of COVID-19, many people are struggling to make ends meet, but it is especially more difficult for people on social assistance who will see their incomes fall dramatically.