POOF calls for Ford government to equalize ODSP and OW funding with CERB

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In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Ontario citizens on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works welfare program are struggling to survive. Their exemption from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB has pushed them toward extreme poverty, placing them at a high risk of homelessness due to insufficient ODSP and OW rates. In response to the increased suffering, Toronto-based advocacy group POOF[1] (Protecting ODSP OW Funding) is fighting for ODSP and OW funds to be made equal that of CERB during and beyond the pandemic.

COVID-19-related measures and restrictions have perpetuated economic instability and disparities, propelling more Ontario citizens to rely on government assistance to pay rent and put food on the table. In response, the City of Toronto opened 11 new shelters and secured more than 1,200 hotel rooms for homeless people, according to a statement from April, 2020[2]. At the time, about 770 people had moved into hotel rooms, with 492 people moved to community space.

According to the latest data from Statistics Canada[3], one in four Canadians (about 25 percent of the population) has a disability. Although the disabled community is being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Canada isn’t collecting any national data to provide evidence and drive policy decisions.

How much do ODSP and OW clients receive?

The maximum shelter allowance for a single individual on ODSP is fixed at $497[4]. Between shelter and basic needs, the maximum monthly payment for single individuals on ODSP is $1,169. For those on Ontario Works (OW), it is $733. Currently, the average market rent in the city is $1,148 per month for a bachelor apartment, leaving those dependent with a dire shortfall of living resources[5].

POOF declares it is not enough

Still, ODSP/OW recipients are expected to survive on as little as $650 a month, which, in POOF’s view, is not enough to live by with dignity, especially during the COVID pandemic. The pandemic has exacerbated many individuals’ physical and mental health needs, but the current ODSP and OW rates are keeping clients in poverty at a time when access to stable income is crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Back in April, housing activist and POOF founder Isabella Gamk launched a province-wide petition that called on the Ontario government to double ODSP or OW rates to make it equal with CERB[6].

The petition, which surpassed its goal of 20,000 signatures, states that “ODSP and OW clients cannot rent a place to live at average market rent since affordable, subsidized, rent geared to income housing is unavailable at this time and may be unavailable for the next 10 to 20 years due to a huge waiting list and zero vacancies.”

Because of that, Gamk says, “clients have to pay average market rent using most or all of their cheque, both their Shelter Allowance and their Basic Needs Allowance.”

As rental rates and housing prices have increased, so have evictions and homelessness.

Isabella Gamk, a housing activist and founder of POOF.

CERB excludes ODSP/OW clients unable to work because of health limitations prior to the pandemic

On the Ontario government site, it states that “Ontario will partially exempt income received under the CERB for OW and ODSP clients who were on the program prior to the COVID-19 outbreak[7]. This approach enables existing clients to partially stack CERB and SA [social assistance] payments, and to continue to access health and other benefits while receiving CERB.”

According to Gamk, the majority of ODSP and OW clients are unable to work due to their health conditions, including herself. Those who receive income from sources other than employment are subject to having funds deducted from their social assistance benefits.

How is it that those who are not able to work, or who are only able to work a little, due to health limitations are getting less in government assistance than the people who are and were able to work before the pandemic?

Response from the Ontario government

There have been minimal changes to ODSP rates prior to the pandemic – an increase of 1.5 percent to monthly payments, which amounts to a mere extra $11 per person per month[8].

In April, the province announced that it will grant a partial exemption of CERB payments for those on social assistance by treating CERB as earned income; the first $200 of CERB payments and 50 percent of each additional dollar received per month will be exempt from any deductions[9]. Payments granted on or after March 1st, 2020 will be deducted dollar-for-dollar when determining eligibility for social assistance.

The Ontario government’s policies regarding ODSP and OW rates fall short of considering that those on ODSP and OW suffer from various health conditions and often rely on special diets and medication to get by.

A disabled Toronto man taken by Gilbert Kandawasvika, a Toronto-based photographer. You can see more of his work on his instagram @king__aten

Social assistance needs a tune up

For many ODSP and OW clients, this struggle is nothing new.

Their continuing experiences and challenges during, prior, and beyond the pandemic have exposed some fundamental flaws in current  social assistance programs that urgently require modification to better protect their clients against food and housing insecurity.

“Secure housing must be accessible to all people – which means that the wages and income support for these food bank clients must be raised dramatically,” Gamk stresses. “Those of us on the support program should be allowed to live above the poverty line in dignity and with respect.”

The pandemic shows us where our government assistance system is lacking. The experiences of ODSP and OW clients urge us to confront why the most vulnerable of our community are having to fight for the right to sufficient food and secure housing during a pandemic and beyond. It is time to challenge why and how ODSP and OW clients are supposed to survive when they are unable to work due to health limitations or receive very little work, yet are getting less in government assistance than the people who are and were able to work before the COVID pandemic.

How is that after decades and decades, the most vulnerable and in need are still forgotten, left perpetually in a state of struggle for the bare essentials to life?

These issues that the ODSP and OW community is not only urging us to reevaluate our government assistance programs, but our society and culture attitude towards them.

Watch: Housing activist Isabella Gamk explains link between poverty, rising crime & police budget


[1] POOF Protecting ODSP OW Funding.” POOF Protecting ODSP OW Funding Public Group.

[2] City of Toronto. “City of Toronto Statement on Notice of Application Regarding City Emergency Shelters.” City of Toronto, 26 Apr. 2020.

[3] Morris, Stuart, et al. “ The Dynamics of Disability: Progressive, Recurrent or Fluctuating Limitations.” Statistics Canada, Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, 3 Dec. 2019.

[4] Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. “Ontario Disability Support Program – Income Support Directives.” Government of Ontario , Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, 2016.

[5] City of Toronto. “Current City of Toronto Average Market Rents & Utility Allowances.” City of Toronto, 3 Feb. 2020.

[6] Isabella Gamk. “Petition: Raise ODSP OW Shelter and Basic Needs Allowances Now.” Leadnow.ca, Apr. 2020.

[7] Government of Ontario. “ Ontario Disability Support Program.” Ontario Disability Support Program, Government of Ontario, 2020.

[8] Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. “Ontario Increasing Social Assistance Rates.” Ontario Newsroom, 2016

[9] Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. “About Social Assistance in Ontario.” About Social Assistance in Ontario | Ministry of Community and Social Services, Government of Ontario, 2020

Wiki Production Code: A0069

16 Responses

  1. I live in Ontario housing meaning my odsp is $139 for rent and 72 for living in. After paying $110 for my school debt as well as internet for $116 and $80 for phone, that leaves me over $300 for groceries. I live in a small town, where our grocery store is Foodland, who has prices equal to Sobeys. Cans cost $60 return trip if I leave town to another. The so called bus service thru town doesn’t stop where I need to go. I can’t stand on my feet for more then max half an hour, where 10 mind I have to rest. I can’t get a job because of my back, unless counselling but no one hires in town unless you have a vehicle, drivers license and masters/Bachalor degree. I only have basic degree.

  2. I worked as a health care provider for many years. I worked to the point that I had Fibromyalgia at which point the doctor told me to stop.
    Now I live on peanuts on odsp by no fault of my own.
    It’s reprehensible that Ford won’t look at odsp and ow recipients income and after that it’s become a poverty situation in that the rent increases have made it such. First of all allowing landlords to increase at their own discretion is absolutely ridiculous as they have become greedy (like we knew they would) and secondly to let vulnerable people become homeless or starved is barbaric.
    Mind blown Doug
    Won’t get my vote.

  3. I worked for an MTO contractor plowing snow from Hwys 400, 401, 409 and 27 until the day in February 1993 I lost a battle with the fire hose we used at Patrol 643 to wash equipment. WCB never came through due to employer games and I was stuck on welfare until Voc Rehab came through for me to go to college. During that time, a student loan went unpaid as I had to pay rent and eat. School didn’t work out so I had to withdraw – with the promise for ODSP when the current VRS obligation expired. I ended up having to requalify – a process that took five years – for a program for which I had already qualified when VRS was approved. I applied for OSL forgiveness in 1999 when VRS terminated and all was well until Total Credit Recovery began harassing me in 2006 for a student loan that had been forgiven seven years before. Now they have seized any CRA returns I may get – which means if I bothered to apply for Disability Tax Credit to get that one-time$600 payment the federal government offered it would be stolen. Since 2004, when ODSP came through, benefit has increased by some 25% while the cost of a loaf of bread has increases by 300%. I suggest basing payment on cost of living rather than on rate of inflation.

    1. If his actions have shown us anything it’s that those most in need will not receive help. Let’s work on working together so we are not so little after all. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Wow, very informative. Crazy to know that people in need of welfare and disability are living with suck a major lack of support needed to live above the poverty line! Hopefully things can change in future with raised awareness and activism for this cause!

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. Yes it is appalling to think about. We watch so much of our paycheck taken away by taxes with the consoling notion that those in need are looked after. Our society and government need amending.

  5. I am an ODSP receptient and can not afford to rent an appartment for myself and feed my self. So, at 62 yrs of age, with failing health problems year after year, I dont think ODSP is working to help support my life at all. I can not work, I can not walk too far, I can not afford food and rent. I can not afford to take cabs and I can not afford a vehicle. Depression, Anxiety and all around fear of what will happen next with the lack of support from our Government takes its toll on every day life… So very sad for all who are going through similar situations here in Ontario. Too many lives dont seem to matter.

  6. My son is high functioning autistic and has been given zero help from the government when he was a child. We were on wait lists that were years long and by the time he got high enough in the list he was too old for the program! This happened several times. The end result was no help from the government.

    He is 27 now and on disabilty. They payments are not enough to survive. I am absolutely terrified for his future once my wife and I die. My anxiety level is through the roof fearing for his future.

    1. Your story is tragic and far too common. Please share this story and any thought you may have for addressing these systematic short falls.

    1. Thank you, that means a lot 🙂 I’m glad it stood out to you, please share! The organization POOF definitely needs more traction.

    1. Thank you for your comment, we at INN24 appreciate your support! Please like and share, we hope this organization and its cause can get more spotlight.

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