More than 130 organizations call on Ontario to cancel clawbacks and increase supports for vulnerable people during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Income Security in the Time of COVID-19
Dear Minister Smith,
We are an umbrella group of low-income Ontarians, health care providers, and other organizations. We call on you to ensure the most vulnerable members of our Province have meaningful income security during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused illness, deaths and immense economic disruption and undermined the income security of many in Ontario. While federal and provincial governments have taken positive steps to provide additional income support during the pandemic, many low-income Ontarians are still falling through the cracks. If we are to weather this storm together, we must ensure that nobody in Ontario is left behind.
We ask for the following changes that will help low-income Ontarians, whose vulnerability to ill health during this emergency has worsened. We urge you not to wait any longer. The income support to our most vulnerable population is needed now.
Raise the Social Assistance Rates
First, social assistance rates should be immediately increased. These rates are far below the poverty line, and are less than the cost of food and housing alone. In the past year, the rates were not increased to keep up with inflation and are insufficient for coping with additional needs during a pandemic.
A single person in financial need, for instance, can receive up to a total of $733 per month from Ontario Works. If that person qualifies as a person with a disability, they can receive up to $1,169 from the Ontario Disability Support Program. These rates are far below the poverty line of $1,767 per month, which contributes to food insecurity, poor health, and the current homelessness crisis – a recipe for disaster during COVID-19.
Raising the rates would also lift up many Ontarians affected by the pandemic who do not currently qualify for income support. As a result of COVID-19, many people will struggle to get by when their incomes fall dramatically to hover just above the current inadequate rates. With a rate increase, these individuals and families who may not be eligible for federal emergency benefits could become eligible for social assistance.
Although Ontario has announced the availability of additional funds for discretionary benefits, this is simply not enough. It requires social assistance recipients to individually request overworked caseworkers for an unknown and entirely discretionary amount of additional funds to cover specific expenses like cleaning supplies. It is too uncertain, hard-to-access, and limited to be of any meaningful benefit to low-income Ontarians.
Substantially raising the rates, by contrast, is a broad-reaching, transparent, and long-term solution. It is the right thing to do ensure that everyone is able to feed and clothe themselves and live with health and basic human dignity.
Exempt Federal Benefits from Clawback
Second, earning exemptions for social assistance should be expanded. Currently, any income received from sources other than employment is generally deducted dollar-for-dollar from social assistance benefits. This prevents low income Ontarians from fully benefitting from Employment Insurance (EI) or the newly announced Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) at this critical time. We ask that these sources of income be exempt from clawback.
Federal income support programs are meant to benefit all Canadians who are affected by a global pandemic. The clawback effectively benefits Ontario’s coffers. The Ontario government should not deprive low-income Ontarians from much-needed federal benefits. Doing so would blunt Canada’s effort to inject money into our struggling national economy and hurt those most vulnerable to the pandemic.
We urge that all federal earnings replacement programs be immediately exempt from clawback. Certain other federal benefits, like the Canada Child Benefit, are already exempt. Expanding exemptions to EI and CERB would ensure that social assistance recipients who lose their employment can partake like all other Canadians in the assistance offered by our federal government to meet extraordinary expenses.
We appreciate that these are difficult times and are looking forward to your action on these issues.