If disabled can work, why take away their money?

If disabled can work, why take away their money?
“I don’t want to be at home. I want to work.”
~ ODSP recipient
By MPP Toby Barrett
Prior to last spring’s election, Premier Wynne pegged social justice as her top priority. Immediately after winning, she promised “better support” for those on social assistance. But those in need continue to wait.
When it comes to shortfalls, the present government likes to point the finger at Mike Harris who modernized welfare 20 years ago. But over the past 12 years, the Liberal regime has neglected to keep pace with the cost of living for those receiving social services. In fact, many recipients were further ahead under Harris when it comes to constant dollars.
A few weeks ago, MPP Ernie Hardeman and I attended a group discussion at Community Living Tillsonburg to discuss the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The Wynne government is eliminating the $100-a-month Work-Related Benefit people are allowed to keep if they choose to work. The $100 will be replaced with a new benefit designed to offset identified employment expenses; however this benefit will not be automatic and will be annual, not monthly.
This change means a family receiving assistance in the way of $13,000 per year would lose between $1,200 and $2,400. That is significant and those at the meeting spoke out:
“What would be the point of working…why not just stay home, sit around and collect a government cheque,” one person questioned.
“I don’t want to be at home. I want to work,” said another in frustration, and someone else chimed in, “If I lost $100 I don’t know what I would do. It’s cruel and it’s discrimination.”
My question — why is the government making it difficult for people to work?
Prior to 2013, earnings were clawed back at a rate of 50 per cent from the first dollar earned. It was changed to allow working recipients to keep the first $200 of net earnings before the 50 per cent clawback was enforced. Now, with the elimination of the Work-Related Benefit, the ODSP Action Coalition questions the motive: “When the $200 earnings exemption was put into law last year, the government called it an incentive to work. There was never any indication that people on ODSP were going to have to use that money to pay for ongoing costs of working, which were at least in part covered by the Work Related Benefit.”
The Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) concluded in an issue note recently that, “The Ontario government has made a commitment to reform social assistance programs, but appears to be moving in a direction in which people with disabilities are being negatively impacted.”
Working recipients have already told me they may quit their part-time work because without the benefit they will be financially unable to continue.
A few years ago, I introduced a Private Members Bill proposing the first $750 of net earnings be allowed before any deductions – the idea received all-party support but disappeared when the Premier called the election. Most felt things would be made right following the election given her stated commitment to those on social assistance.
The Premier says social assistance is a priority for her government and yet her actions say otherwise. This government should be encouraging recipients any way it can to maintain the dignity that comes with working and contributing to their community.