Friday, April 02, 2010

Let Them (Not) Eat Cake

There are two reasons why I seldom write about serious topics here. Number 1: the Innertubes has more than enough people willing to tell you why you've no excuse to smile. Number 2: people who are not capital 'W' Writers (like me!) too often come off like the inside-cover of a 15 year-old Emo kid's notebook.

I'm going to break that tradition for this post because of this Globe and Mail article.

Let me summarize: If you live in Ontario and collect welfare (euphamistically called Ontario Works) or a provincial disability pension (called ODSP to those in-the-know), there is an optional benefit called the Special Diet Allowance (SDA). Got Diabetes? That'll get you an extra $20 a month for fresh produce. Allergic to eggs? You'll get a few bucks a month for egg substitutes. For most folks on OW or ODSP, you could see an extra $50 on top of your standard benefits. The maximum SDA is $250 a month, but you're likely on a first-name basis with the Grim Reaper if you hit that jackpot.

Despite the Province's best plans to keep the SDA a secret, people found about it and used it. According to an audit report, many people abused it, too. There's no surprise there, of course. If you rely on government benefits to survive, you're going to find ways to maximize your income. But that doesn't discount the fact that thousands of Ontarians have a legitimate need for the SDA.

But Dalton & Co. have a different perspective. The SDA costs too much, they say. They claim the program cost has ballooned from $6 million bucks a few years ago to well over $200 million today. This is the same governmental brain trust that finds billions of tax dollars for failing auto manufacturers and guarantees employee pensions for companies that get kicked to the curb in the free-market.

So let's do away with the SDA and replace it with something more manageable, says Dalton. Of course, 'manageable' means that the Province will make damn sure they spend less money on the poor and the disabled. They're an easy target, of course, since they can't scream loud enough or vote often enough to be a problem.

You might wonder why I'm worked up about this? Beyond the simple social injustice, I've been up-close-and-personal with the ODSP racket - and I know how little we do for the needy in the Province of Ontario. A few years back, my mother had a stroke and lost both her physical and financial health. Effectively part of the 'working poor' for many years, she had no private insurance coverage and little in the way of savings when everything in her life changed in August 2006.

Long story short: I spent many months learning the Ins and Outs of the Ontario Disability Support Program in order to find some means of financial support for my mother's 'new life' - a life that would no longer her permit the dignity of working for a living. It's a topic for another post, I suppose, but suffice to say that ODSP is constructed to minimize benefits and built on the tenet that anyone who applies is a crook. As a Systems Analyst by profession, the ODSP labyrinth impresses the Hell out of me. As a human being, it's almost disgusting.

And if you're successful in negotiating the months-long hazing that is the application process, the very best you can expect to receive is about $1,000 a month if you're single. For anyone living on ODSP, that's likely your entire income. Lord help you if you don't have family or friends that can help - but don't tell the Province's ODSP administrators about that (seriously). In short, the ODSP system is the stuff of which Terry Gilliam films are made.

So when you're living on a pittance and Dalton wants to get rid of the SDA, it's a big deal. In my mother's case, this won't matter much. Once she turned 65, the Province took their ODSP and went home - leaving her with a Drug Card and a phone number for the Federal CPP/OAS/GIC hotline (a much more humane world, by the way). But for those not lucky enough (yet) to qualify for an old age pension, Dalton's assault on their disability benefits is a mean-spirited attempt to chip away at Provincial debt on the backs of those who can't afford it and can't fight back. For a Premiere that never met a tax or a user-fee he didn't like, it's disgusting that we cannot afford to take care of a small number of our most vulnerable cititzens.

But, hey, at least we could help out Chrysler, right?

1 comment:

David said...


As I'm not a serious policy wonk, that's the best I can do.