Disability advocates sound alarm over premier's comments

Man's hand on wheelchair

Advocates for those on the Ontario Disability Support Program are sounding the alarm over comments made by the premier last week.

Trevor Manson is the secretary for the ODSP Action Coalition, and he says the cost of living for people on ODSP has gone up during the pandemic. That could be from taking more Ubers or taxis due to reduced public transit service, or having to get groceries delivered if they're immunocompromised.

The province made a $100 pandemic benefit available to people on ODSB until the end of July, but when asked why the benefit ended, the premier said: "Our goal through $17 billion that we're spending is [to] try to support everyone possible, and then there's a certain group that are collecting ODSP that have part-time jobs, and if they keep the CERB going and their part-time job, they're actually up a few hundred dollars — not down. But I understand people are struggling, I get it. I fully understand and we're doing everything we can to support everyone across the province and the best way to help people in Ontario Works or ODSP, if they're healthy and they're able to work, get them a job, help get them a job.

"And speaking of jobs, by the way, I've been hearing from a lot of employers that they have a tremendous amount of jobs available and people just aren't coming back to work because of the CERB. That's concerning. I understand it, but it's concerning that people aren't going back to work. I hear it more and more now that people have the jobs available, but people aren't aren't showing up. So that's concerning. But we're going to be there to support people right across the board, no matter if you're on ODSP, Ontario Works, or any area, we're doing everything we can to support these folks."

Speaking directly to Ford's comments, Manson tells NEWSTALK1010 he was disappointed to hear that come from the premier, saying a very small number of ODSP recipients actually have any employment.

"It was very disappointing to say the least," Manson says. "The number of ODSP recipients that reported income at the end of December 2019 was 42,000 people... out of a program that consists of about half a million people. So only about eight per cent of people on ODSP may have qualified for the CERB."

Manson says disability advocates have also been pointing to the $2,000 per month Canada Emergency Response Benefit provided by the federal government. Manson says this shows that a living wage in this country is almost double the maximum a person can get on ODSP — $1,169.

"And now people on disability are pointing to that, saying 'Well how come our lives are worth less because we're disabled?'"

Manson also has an issue with how the benefit was rolled out. He says the $100 wasn't automatically tacked on to an ODSP payment. Instead, Manson says, anyone on ODSP would have had to call their case worker in order to enrol for the benefit. That means not everyone who was eligible for the top-up got it.

"A start would be to offer the $100 retroactively," Manson says, "and continue it at least through to the end of the year."