Ensuring Adequate Funding for Disability supports

In the November 2nd edition of Update Friday, Community Living Ontario reported on a proposed class action lawsuit over the lengthy waitlists for developmental services in Ontario.

This lawsuit and the longstanding challenges in accessing community supports that caused it are yet further signs of the systemic flaws inherent in the policy and funding structures that govern developmental services.

Of course, the concerns that lead to the undertaking of this legal action are not new. In his 2016 report Nowhere to Turn, the Ontario Ombudsman outlined a significant crisis facing people who have an intellectual disability and their families as a result of a lack of access to supports and services. As well, the all-party Select Committee on Developmental Services, which reported to the Ontario Legislature in 2014, outlined the deep systemic problems within developmental services that it uncovered through a comprehensive public consultation process.

As with the Ombudsman’s investigation and the Select Committee’s public consultation, the class action lawsuit may serve as another opportunity to highlight the systematic problems that exist in developmental services and perhaps push the government to address the problems.

The lawsuit is looking for $110 million in damages, along with a declaration that the province wronged eligible adults who have an intellectual or developmental disability, by placing them on indeterminate waiting lists.

The cash award and acknowledgment of the wrong done to people would no doubt be welcome by people and families who are part of the class action. However, what is ultimately needed is a system change that will ensure that people get the support that they need now and in the future.

At Community Living Ontario’s Annual General Meeting back in September, members passed a resolution calling for the adoption of a primary long-term advocacy goal to convince government to “mandate” the provision of sufficient funding in developmental services by introducing policy and legislation identifying developmental services as a mandated sector as called for by the Select Committee on Developmental Services.

The call for establishing developmental services as a mandated system and for the elimination of waitlists was in fact the first principle and key recommendation of the Select Committee’s 2014 report to the legislature. It is time that the government acted on this recommendation.

Establishing a mandated system would not mean that people could get whatever they wanted from government or have all their needs addressed through government funding. Community Living Ontario does not want a return to approaches we saw in the government-run institutions that finally closed in 2009, where people lived in fully funded government facilities.

People want to establish their lives in community where they can contribute to society, build relationships, and enjoy the natural support that comes with friends and families.  For many people with disabilities, however, there are certain supports that they will require that are appropriately provided by government.

In 2008, the government introduced the Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Developmental Disabilities Act. That act has introduced systems for determining eligibility for supports and has made progress in providing each eligible person with an assessment of what supports they might require. While there is still work to do to improve these processes, they have provided some useful tools to help people plan their lives and consider what support they may need from government.

The problem is that that neither the legislation nor government has provided any assurance that people will actually receive the supports that they are deemed eligible for. In fact, during the certification hearing for the class action on October 30th at Osgoode Hall, government co-counsel, Rochelle Fox, argued to Justice Edward Belobaba that the province was under no obligation to provide the programs to recipients, regardless of eligibility.

This is an indication of a dysfunctional system, one that clearly articulates both eligibility and need but makes no guarantee of support to address the identified needs. It was this dysfunctionality that the Select Committee was seeking to address in calling for the establishment of a mandated developmental services system.

Since the introduction of the new legislation in 2008, government has invested many rounds of new funding for supports and services in the developmental services sector. Despite these investments, waitlists have continued to grow. Community Living Ontario argues that this is because the government funding never adopted a principle of adequacy with respect to developmental services funding and, therefore, continues to invest arbitrary amounts of funding with no intention of adequately addressing people’s real needs.

It is time for the government to establish a long-term plan to address these issues by implementing the Select Committee’s recommendations regarding mandated services and the elimination of waitlists.

In the 2018 Ontario Budget, the government did open the door to the establishment of a mandated system of supports when it provided a guarantee that any person who is deemed eligible for Passport funding would receive at least $5,000 in funding each year.

While for many people, this is not enough funding to address all of their needs, it is nevertheless a guarantee of some support; a guarantee that has never existed before.

This new guaranteed funding did begin to flow before the change of government following the provincial election in June. We hope that the new government will continue to support this commitment to people and will use this initial funding change as a stepping stone towards making developmental services a fully mandated system.

Perhaps with such a change, people and their families in the future will not feel the need to face the government in court to seek a guarantee of the support for which they are deemed eligible.

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