Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the 2017 Ontario Budget at Queen’s Park yesterday (April 27th), the first balanced budget in a decade. Titled A Stronger, Healthier Ontario, the budget focused its main new investments on health care, education and other services.
There are a number of new initiatives and funding that may prove beneficial to people who have an intellectual disability and their families once full details are made available. For example the budget:
- Introduces a new pharmacare mechanism called OHIP+, which is intended to provide universal drug coverage to all children and youth, 24 and under, across the province regardless of family income;
- Calls for an investment of an additional $20 million in 2017 for respite care through the Ministry of Health to offer respite to the unpaid caregivers (family and friends) of seniors, people living with dementia and other home care patients;
- Expands home and community care through an additional investment of $85 million over three years to enhance programs such as home nursing, personal support and physiotherapy, as well as respite care services;
- Promises faster Access to Mental Health Services through an additional investment of $74 million over three years for mental health services, including new supportive housing units and structured psychotherapy;
- Proposes a new Ontario Caregiver Tax Credit designed to make life a little easier for caregivers so they can focus on helping loved ones; the Province proposes to simplify and improve access to tax relief by replacing the caregiver and infirm dependent tax credits with a new Ontario Caregiver Tax Credit (OCTC);
- Outlines planned investments in housing to increase affordable housing stock in the province; the information in the budget, however, appears to be a repeat of announcements made earlier this year and it does not provide any new details regarding how these investments might impact people who have an intellectual disability; and
- Commits to investing $26 million over four years to expand support for children, youth and families affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder by increasing awareness and prevention of the disorder.
New Investments in Disability Related Supports
The government will invest $130 million in annualized funding in Developmental Services this year, growing to an accumulated sum of $677 million over four years. In 2017-18, the government will commit this new funding to:
- Provide over 375 additional residential developmental services placements for people with urgent needs and youth transitioning from the child welfare system;
- Support 1,000 additional adults who have a developmental disability to participate in their communities through the Passport program;
- Establish a specialized residential support home for people with complex needs who are moving from justice facilities;
- Expand specialized clinical responses for people with complex special needs; and
- Improve access to local community services by making the system easier to navigate.
Over the next two years, the government will work with families and community partners to transition over 400 young adults currently in the children’s system into adult developmental services.
The Ministry of Community and Social Services will also invest $5 million in capital funds to help with building and revitalization costs, although there were no details on these funds and they did not appear in the budget document.
Community Living Ontario acknowledges the positive impact that the new funding investments might have on many people who have an intellectual disability and their families. We are exceedingly concerned, nevertheless, that the funding levels proposed will leave many people lingering on ever increasing waiting lists and potentially falling into crisis. This is especially true when you consider that, once again, a large portion of the proposed funding is not in fact new, but is funding that was previously provided through children’s services and is now simply being administered by the Ministry of Community and Social Services as the children have grown into adults.
Community Living Ontario recently released a brief title Urgent Action Required (click here to read it) regarding the Ministry of Community and Social Services’ update on the Ontario Ombudsman’s report on Developmental Services. In that brief, it is pointed out that the level of investment that has occurred in the Developmental Services sector in recent years, including the $810 million provided for in the 2014 Ontario Budget, has failed to significantly reduce the numbers of people waiting for disability-related services. In fact, the number of people waiting for residential support is higher now than it was before the 2014 investment. Unfortunately, the $130 million outlined for Developmental Services in 2017 has even more modest targets than the earlier funding, and it is highly likely that waitlists will continue to grow, leaving more families facing crisis.
The most recent waitlist numbers that the Ministry of Community and Social Services has provided to Community Living Ontario indicate that there are 11,000 people waiting for Passport funding and 14,900 waiting for residential supports. The targets for new supports this year as outlined above will have no appreciable impact on the overall unmet need in the sector.
The government is increasing Ontario Works and ODSP benefit rates for everyone by two per cent. This change will include increases to other social assistance benefits and allowances, such as the Personal Needs Allowance, which is available for those residing in institutions and emergency shelters. These rate increases will take effect in September of 2017 for ODSP, and in October of 2017 for Ontario Works.
To help address the unique challenges in northern and remote communities, including the higher cost of food and transportation, the Province will also increase the Remote Communities Allowance by providing an additional $50 per month for the first person and $25 for each additional family member.
ODSP Gifts and Asset Limits
The government is increasing limits on cash and other liquid assets for people receiving ODSP benefits. For ODSP recipients, the cash and other liquid asset limits will be increased from $5,000 to $40,000 for single people and from $7,500 to $50,000 for couples. Increases to asset limits will take effect by January of 2018.
Recognizing that people receiving social assistance may also rely on the support of family or friends, the income exemption for cash gifts will be increased from $6,000 up to $10,000 per year. In addition, gifts in any amount will not reduce the amount of social assistance people receive if the funds are used to pay for first and last month’s rent, purchase a principal residence, or buy a vehicle that they may need. These changes will take effect in September of 2017.
Community Living Ontario welcomes these changes but wished that the government had gone further to align ODSP benefits with those paid by other provinces that have modernized the assets and gift limits. In our recommendations for the Ontario Budget in both 2016 and 2017, Community Living Ontario called on the government to amend ODSP regulations to:
- Remove the $6,000 limit on voluntary gifts and payments; and
- Increase the prescribed asset limit to $100,000 for a single recipient and $200,000 if there is a spouse in the benefit unit.
We note that there is no limit on payments made from a recipient’s Registered Disability Savings Plan. The Ministry of Community and Social Services made a conscious decision in 2008 to allow recipients to access unlimited funds from their RDSPs, in order to enhance their quality of life. Voluntary gifts and payments from family members, friends and trusts would serve substantially the same purpose; the difference being that RDSP payments cannot typically be accessed until much later in the person’s life, whereas payments from supporters and trusts can be accessed at any time.
We further note that on November 5th, 2015, the Government of British Columbia announced an increase to the asset limit from $5,000 to $100,000 ($200,000 for a couple) and completely removed the limit on voluntary gifts and payments. Asset limits of $100,000 were established in Alberta several years ago. Community Living Ontario believes that it is time for Ontario to follow suit.
Investments in Service Agencies
The 2017 Ontario Budget provides no new funding to support Developmental Service agencies with the huge and growing administrative burdens that they are experiencing. The $130 million of Developmental Services funding described above is all for the provision of services and is not intended to address the pressures placed on support organizations.
In our 2017 Ontario Budget submission, Community Living Ontario joined our partners in the Provincial Network on Developmental Services in recommending that investments be made in the operating budgets of agencies in the Developmental Services sector. It is estimated that a 2.5 per cent increase in base funding per year for three years ($50 million increase per year, with a total increase of $150 million to annualized budgets after three years) would restore stability to support organizations and enable them to continue providing quality supports and services. We also called on the Government of Ontario to ensure that regulations around pay equity are examined and measures taken to reduce hardship on support organizations, and to maintain a high level of quality services for people who have an intellectual disabilities and their families.
It has been nine years since support organizations in the Developmental Service sector received any new funding to address operational pressures. There is clear evidence that the capacity of organizations has seriously eroded during that period. Without investments, such as those called for by the Provincial Network and its partners, it is unlikely that the sector can carry on much longer without a significant impact on the resilience and capacity of the services provided.
Gord Kyle, Community Living Ontario