At the end of last week, the Ontario Provincial Government released their first full Budget since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The “Budget” is the Province’s legislative roadmap for its finances. It includes the Province’s expected revenue (the money it takes in, like taxes), and how it plans to spend it in the year (or years) ahead. It often comes with the announcements of new government programs. The Budget is typically (though not always) made on an annual basis.
This Budget sets large amounts of spending, and announces a number of new programs to help combat COVID-19 and support a recovery. Our Firm has reviewed the Budget and offers the following highlights for people with disabilities and the broader disability sector.
ACTION TO PROTECT AGAINST COVID-19
- COVID-19 Action Plan for Vulnerable People – The Ontario Government has added $15.2 billion in new supports to its COVID-19 response, in addition to the supports that it has already committed to the Province since March. In this Budget, the Government has stated that it will continue to implement the COVID-19 Action Plan for Vulnerable People to protect persons living in congregate care settings who are at greater risk, including people with developmental disabilities, children in residential settings, and shelters for survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking.
- COVID-19 Fall Action Plan – The Government has included the details of its Fall Preparedness Plan in its Budget. This includes providing resources to a large flu vaccination campaign, enhanced measures for identifying and responding to outbreaks, enhanced directions for workplace and public screening, enhanced resources for testing capacity, enhanced long-term care sector funding, and measures specific to protect people in the developmental services sector and congregate care (through increased infection prevention and control measures).
SUPPORTING ADULTS, CHILDREN AND SENIORS WITH DISABILITIES
The Government also made a number of commitments to fund programs and initiatives to support adults, children and seniors with disabilities during this difficult time:
- Special Services at Home – Beginning in 2020-21, the Government will invest $70.3 million over three years to the Special Services at Home (“SSAH”) program, which supports families caring for children with developmental and/or physical disabilities. The investment is expected to support about 4,700 children in 2020-21 and about 2,100 additional children in each subsequent year. The SSAH funding has been provided by the Government in response to recommendations from the Ontario Autism Program Advisory Panel on a needs-based autism program.
- Support for Children – Another round of payments will be made to parents through the Support for Learners initiative. These payments will consist of $200 per child up to 12 years old and $250 per child and youth with “special needs” up to 21 years old, similar to the payments made in March of this year. They are intended to assist with added costs of COVID-19, such as technology for online learning. The exact timelines of these payments remain unclear.
- Reopening Schools – The Government will make $42.5 million available to schools to support students with special needs and to provide mental health supports during the COVID-19 outbreak, as part of its commitment to keep students safe as schools reopen.
- Ontario Community Support Program – The Government is extending the Ontario Community Support Program until March 2021. The program provides people with disabilities, older adults and others with underlying medical conditions who are self-isolating, with meals, medicines and other essentials while they stay at home. The program is an important lifeline for many vulnerable groups during the pandemic period. The Government has committed to investing an additional $5 million in 2021–22, on top of the $11 million in 2020–21 already announced as part of Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19.
- Inclusive Community Grants Program – Funding of $2 million over two years will go to develop community supports that promote healthy and active aging. This new program will support the social engagement of older adults and people with disabilities by helping them participate in the labour force and be safe at home and in the community.
- Investing in the Lou Fruitman Reena Residence – The Government will make a $3 million investment leveraging federal and municipal commitments and private donations in the construction of the Lou Fruitman Reena Residence in York Region which will provide housing for individuals with physical and developmental disabilities and other vulnerable groups. The residence will have 30 units with enhanced accessibility and a programming space for employment services and wellness programs.
- Seniors’ Home Safety Tax Credit – Seniors who make improvements to their homes to increase safety and accessibility (such as adding wheelchair ramps and stability bars) will receive a refundable tax credit worth 25 percent of up to $10,000 in eligible expenses. These eligible expenses can be shared amongst people who share a home, including spouses and common-law partners. Those who are eligible could receive a maximum credit of $2,500. This credit will apply regardless of whether eligible seniors owe any income tax for 2021.
- Mental Health and Addictions Challenges – As part of its $3.8 billion investment over 10 years for its Mental Health and Addictions (“MHA”) Roadmap to Wellness, the Government has committed to additional funding to expand access to MHA support, including $176 million in 2020-21. The province will provide additional MHA services, as follows:
- Virtual supports including online cognitive behavioural therapy, virtual addiction services, Kids Help Phone and supports for frontline COVID-19 health care workers;
- Community supports in English and French, with a focus on service delivery, and mobile crisis teams and safe beds for those experiencing a mental health crisis;
- Core children and youth mental health services, including walk-in clinics, counseling and therapy, day treatment and live-in treatment supports;
- Rent supplements to support emergency short-term rentals during the second wave of COVID-19;
- A range of supports to seniors, those with disabilities, first responders and vulnerable populations;
- Additional support for interprofessional primary care teams; and
- Additional Indigenous supports.
- Postsecondary Students – The Government will invest $19.25 million in mental health supports for postsecondary students in 2020-21 to strengthen community partnerships and programs at colleges, universities and Indigenous Institutes.
- Responding to Mental Health Crises – In response to a greater number of mental health crises in the province, where police are often called to handle complex and challenging situations, the Government has committed $3 million to enhance mobile crisis interventions teams. Mental health crisis workers and police services will partner together on mobile crisis intervention teams to support the de-escalation and stabilization of situations involving persons in crisis.
Out of 260 pages, the Budget refers to “disability” only twice, and “developmental services” only once. While programming for children and seniors with disabilities received some attention, the Budget was silent on any increased funding or benefits for people who receive Ontario Disability Support Program (“ODSP”). This is particularly problematic given the increased costs being faced by ODSP recipients as a result of the pandemic.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE AND INNOVATION
The Budget also makes a number of promises to increase accessibility in public services. These promises use key buzzwords like “faster,” “easier,” “transparent,” and “centralized”. Especially in the context of COVID-19, the Government has acknowledged the need for streamlined, virtual service delivery. The new programs and promises include:
- Going Digital – In recognition of our increasingly digital world, the Government announced a variety of measures and projects to become the “leading digital jurisdiction in the world” including investing in rural broadband and cellular coverage, and increasing the availability of virtual/digital service delivery including virtual health care, renewing driver’s licences and applying for business permits. The Government intends to increase both the breadth and availability of digital services (both public and private) through innovation, including creating “Digital Identities” for Ontarians.
- Accessibility of the Justice System – The Government acknowledged that the province’s justice system is in need of significant reform. In light of COVID-19, much of the system has been operating virtually, which has highlighted the need for new technologies and modernization; simpler, faster, more affordable court processes; and for overall greater accessibility of the courts and other dispute resolution mechanisms. The Government has committed to increased investment in the justice system, but with little concrete details.
DETAILS FOR DS SECTOR ORGANIZATIONS
In addition to the above measures, the Budget also proposes measures that would affect employers and service providers in the developmental services sector:
- Increased Funding to the DS Sector Generally – The Government promises increased funding of $361 million in 2021–22 in Developmental Services to continue to support clients currently in service and new high-risk clients.
- Renewed Temporary Pandemic Pay – The Government reiterated its commitment to provide renewed temporary pandemic pay to frontline personal support workers and direct support workers in home and community care, long-term care, public hospitals, and the children’s and social services sector. There were no new updates as to what the Government previously announced however.
- Enhanced IPAC Spending in the Social Services Sector – The Government has promised $30 million over two year to maintain infection prevention and control (“IPAC”) measures in the social services sector (including group homes and congregate care settings).
- Occupational Health and Safety Spending – The Government promised to hire 98 more occupational health and safety inspectors to increase active inspections.
- Proposed changes to Bill 124 – The Government is proposing amendments to the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act (known popularly as “Bill 124”) with the aim of ensuring fair and consistent application of the law. These amendments will clarify the application of Bill 124 to in scope employers who change their union-status during its application, and will add enforcement tools to support compliance with the Act.
PooranLaw will keep you informed and provide further analysis as we learn more about the Budget. In the meantime, if you require legal assistance, we encourage you to reach out to your regular PooranLaw lawyer, or any member of our team.
Note: This article provides general information only and does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice or opinion. PooranLaw Professional Corporation holds the copyright to this article and the article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of PooranLaw Professional Corporation.