(This story appeared earlier this month in North End Breezes. http://www.northendbreezes.com/ While the province is gradually uploading the costs of Ontario Works, municipalities continue to be impacted when those who are eligible for ODSP, but have been declined assistance, remain on Ontario Works.)
It is becoming increasingly difficult for people with disabilities who are eligible for social assistance to receive that assistance.
“People who meet the criteria for ODSP, can’t get on it. As well, there are way too many hoops to jump through,” says Mary Marrone, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services for the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC).
ODSP is the Ontario Disability Support Program. This program is designed to help people with disabilities who are in financial need pay for living expenses, like food and housing.
An important part of community legal clinic practice is ODSP casework.
While the clinics have always done this kind of work, the proportion of caseloads made up of ODSP work has changed considerably over the years.
A little history is in order.
The Old Family Benefits program was changed to ODSP by the government of Mike Harris nearly twenty years ago.
At that point qualifying for the program became a big issue.
Let’s go back to 1997-98. When ODSP was set up, the total ODSP caseload for Ontario clinics was 185,479. That sounds like a lot of people, you say. Well, not really. By 2013 that number had escalated to 314,033.
People who apply for ODSP and are denied have an option of requesting an Internal Review. If that request for an Internal Review is denied, the next step can be to file an appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT). The Social Benefits Tribunal is an administrative body that deals specifically with appeals regarding social assistance.
In 1997 ODSP appeals represented 14% of the total clinic practice. These days 67% of all new cases opened in the southwest region of Ontario that our Clinic is a part of are for ODSP appeals.
This shift in clinic practice means that people who want services in other areas of law we are mandated to provide may not be able to get these services.
We’re pleased that those appeals to the SBT are twice as likely to be granted as denied. However, these successes are an indication that reform is required.
“Too many resources are needed to get to the right decision,” says Ms. Marrone.
As a result clinics are being forced to reduce their ODSP work.
Recently the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic developed a new resource called Getting Ready for Your SBT Hearing. A youtube video and a handout can be found on the clinic’s website at http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/ontario-disability-support-program.php and in French at http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/fr/posph.php