ODSP recipients urge Ford government to increase payments, say it’s impossible to live on

People with disabilities are asking when they will get help from the Ontario government, saying they can't afford to live on disability payments. Cynthia Mulligan speaks to one person who says he's considering medical assistance in dying.

By Cynthia Mulligan

The Ford government has been making billions of dollars worth of pre-election promises, from license plate sticker rebates to hospital renovations.

However, people with disabilities are asking when they will get help, saying they can’t survive on their current payments. Some have even considered planning to apply for medical assistance in death (MAID) because it’s becoming too hard to live.

Richard Ewald has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stage four liver disease and suffers from chronic pain and depression. He survives on Ontario Disability Support Payments (ODSP), but barely.

Ewald’s payments total $1,169 per month to cover rent, food, and other essentials. He tells CityNews he will apply for MAID if his situation gets worse and knows several others who are doing the same.

“I’m not suicidal. Sometimes it’s a choice between burning to death and jumping out of a high-rise building. I’d like to have that choice. I’ve suffered. I really don’t want to suffer past a certain point,” said Ewald. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t so stuck in this situation with ODSP.”

In 1995, when Mike Harris was Premier, he cut ODSP payments by 21 per cent. In 1998, a person with disabilities could receive up to $930 a month. Twenty-four years later, in 2020, that amount has gone up by just $239.

When you add in rising inflation, it works out to be even less than someone might receive in 1998.

Just before the 2016 election, Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne promised to raise ODSP by three per cent a year for three consecutive years. The Ford government cancelled those increases. Instead, the Ontario Convseratives increased payments once by 1.5 per cent.

The Federal Liberals announced in 2020 that they would create a “Canada Disability Benefit” that would provide more funds for those on disability. Still, it hasn’t been implemented, and no further details have been released.

Trevor Manson, the co-chair of the ODSP Action Coalition and an ODSP recipient, says he survives on just $50 a week after paying his rent and hydro.

“People on ODSP are literally getting poorer every month,” said Manson.

He tells CityNews he survives, as many do, by learning the “ODSP diet.” For some, it’s not much more than a potato a day, while others drink coffee because caffeine is an appetite suppressant.

“If you buy a jar of instant coffee for $6 or $7, that could replace dozens of meals throughout the month,” explained Manson.

Many others have taken to Twitter to share more about their lives on ODSP.

Premier Doug Ford was asked whether he was considering raising ODSP payments. He replied by saying he has been there to support those unable to work for the last four years.

“For the people who are unable to work, for any reason, be it physically, mentally, I will always be there to support them,” said Ford. “But the people who can work in any capacity at all, there’s endless jobs in every sector and the best way to help someone who can work is to get them a job.”

Manson said the majority of people with disabilities aren’t able to work. He believes they’re stigmatized.

“There’s a misconception that all kinds of people are faking it, but who the hell wants to go through getting prodded and getting worked over applying for a program that’s not going to provide you with enough money to survive on,” said Manson.

Ewald says his disabilities make it impossible for him to work. That’s why he is turning to MAID, for when it gets to the point, he would rather die than struggle to live on ODSP.

“If you had the choice between two ways of going, what would you do? Prolonged suffering or just get it over with?” asks Ewald.

The Ontario NDP and The Green Party of Ontario have promised to raise rates if elected this June, while the Liberals have yet to make an announcement on the issue.

Just under 382,000 people are currently on ODSP, at the cost of around $5 billion per year.

With files from Meredith Bond of CityNews

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