Ontario’s 2021 Budget: Highlights for People with Disabilities and for the Developmental Services

Yesterday afternoon, the Ontario Provincial Government released the second Budget that the government has delivered during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This budget sets large amounts of spending, and announces some new programs and funding to help combat COVID-19 and support the economy and people’s health which has been negatively affected due to the pandemic. Our Firm has reviewed the budget and provides highlights here for people with disabilities and for the developmental services sector.

In this budget, the Government has introduced the Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy (“Ontario’s Action Plan”), bringing total investments to $16.3 billion to protect people’s health and $23.3 billion to protect the economy. Ontario’s COVID-19 action plan support now totals $51 billion.

Action to Defeat Covid-19, Improve Long-Term Care Homes, and Support Victims

The Government has introduced the following measures to defeat COVID-19, improve Long-Term Care Homes and provide support for victims of violent crimes:

  • Defeat COVID-19: The Ontario’s Action Plan addresses measures introduced by the Ontario Government to defeat COVID-19. These include expanding the hospital sector and the health care system, expanding the use of rapid testing in high priority areas, such as schools, congregate settings, workplaces and high priority communities, and enhanced funding for provincewide vaccination plan and for personal protective equipment.
  • Improve Long-Term Care Homes: The details of the Ontario’s Action Plan include enhanced long-term care sector funding, building and updating long‐term care homes, recruitment and training of personal support workers (PSWs), and a commitment to invest over four years to increase the average direct daily care to four hours a day in long‐term care homes.
  • Support for Victims: The Province has announced increased funding to provide better care for people struggling with mental health and addictions issues, support survivors of domestic violence and victims of other violent crimes, including human trafficking, and for anti-racism and anti-hate programs.

Supporting Families, Seniors and Children with Disabilities

The Government has made a few commitments to fund programs and initiatives to support families, seniors and children with disabilities during these difficult times:

  • Support for Children: The Province is automatically providing a third round of payments to parents who received Support for Learners payments. The payment will be doubled to $400 for each child aged 0 to Grade 12, and $500 for each child or youth 21 years old or younger with special needs. This means that a family with three young children, one of whom has special needs, will receive $2,600 in total since last March after the third round of payments. While payments to parents who received previous rounds of payments will be automatic, parents who had not applied for the previous payments will be able to submit an application for this third payment round. The exact timelines of these payments remain unclear.
  • Support for Children and Youth with Disabilities: To support children and youth with disabilities to live happier and healthier lives, Ontario is investing $240 million over four years, beginning in 2021–22. This investment will ensure that more children and families have access to critical services when they need them and build additional service capacity in early intervention rehabilitation and Preschool Speech and Language Program services.
  • Childcare Access and Relief from Expenses (CARE) Tax Credit: This tax credit was introduced in 2019 to help Ontario families with childcare costs while letting them choose the care that is right for their children. The Government is proposing a 20 per cent enhancement of the CARE tax credit for 2021. This would increase support from $1,250 to $1,500, on average, providing about $75 million in additional support for the childcare expenses of over 300,000 families.
  • New Children’s Treatment Centres: The Government has also announced funding for creation of new Children’s Treatment Centres in Ottawa and Chatham-Kent for children, including children with disabilities. This will improve access to critical programs and services, such as developmental care, autism services, and occupational therapy, and rehabilitative treatment.
  • Abilities Centre in Whitby: The Government is investing an additional $4.5 million over three years, beginning in 2021–22, to support the Abilities Centre in Whitby. The Centre connects youth and adults with disabilities to employment opportunities, supports employers in creating inclusive workplaces and promotes the value of inclusive hiring. Investments will also help people with disabilities develop community connections and build life skills that will support them in reaching their employment and personal goals.
  • Housing Supports for Persons with Disabilities: The Government has announced $13 million over three years, beginning in 2021–22, to assist persons with developmental disabilities in accessing community housing and expanding the Adult Protective Service Worker program to support them to live independently.
  • Senior’s Home Safety Tax Credit: To help seniors stay in their homes longer, the Government has introduced the Seniors’ Home Safety Tax Credit for 2021. This new credit will provide an estimated $30 million in support for about 27,000 seniors and people who live with senior relatives.

Out of 231 pages, the budget refers to “disability” only twice, and “developmental services” only once, whereas it refers to “disabilities” nine times.  While assistance for children with disabilities and seniors 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 associated with the pandemic. Similarly, the Government failed to provide any increased supports to people receiving ODSP in its 2020 Budget.

Supporting Workers, Employers, and Students

Additionally, the Government has announced some new supports for workers, employers, and students:

  • Supports for Workers: To help workers with their training expenses, the Government is proposing a new Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit for 2021. It would provide up to $2,000 per recipient for 50 per cent of eligible expenses, for a total of an estimated $260 million in support to about 230,000 people in 2021. Expenses eligible for the proposed Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit would be the same as those that can be claimed for the Canada training credit, which can include personal support worker (PSW) training programs among other programs.
  • Training Supports: The Government has committed to providing up to $117.3 million in funding to assist women, racialized individuals, Indigenous peoples, youth and people with disabilities who are facing the highest rates of unemployment during the pandemic. This funding will help remove barriers and offer training opportunities so they can get the in‐demand skills they need for good jobs and get connected with employers looking to grow their businesses.
  • Skills Development Fund: This program was launched in February 2021 and will support training and employment organizations assist workers during the province’s economic recovery. Funded projects under this program will give laid‐off workers immediate access to training supports or new jobs, improve the quality of training, support traditionally underrepresented groups, increase apprentice registrations and completion, better serve local communities and support the talent needs of small businesses. Eligible projects can include the creation of training materials that teach employers how to accommodate employees who have disabilities and making workspaces and equipment more accessible, among other projects. The funded projects will be available for workers starting in spring and summer 2021.
  • Occupational Health and Safety Spending: The Government is investing $3.5 million annually over a three‐year period in providing free occupational health and safety training for health and safety representatives in small businesses. The Government has also made a commitment to support Ontario’s Safe Employers, which is a voluntary program that will promote health and safety and reduce injuries and illness in the workplace by encouraging employers to implement an accredited occupational health and safety management system, and conduct hazard and risk assessments.
  • Supports for Post-Secondary Students: To help postsecondary students during COVID‐19, the Government has provided an additional $7 million in 2020–21 to increase access to mental health and addiction services, building on an investment of $19.25 million announced in October 2020. This funding will provide services to those studying on campus or virtually and will help address the needs of vulnerable and diverse groups, such as Indigenous students, LGBTQ+ students and students with disabilities.

The Government has not introduced provincial paid sick days for workers, despite calls by health-care workers, advocates, and opposition parties.

Access to Justice and Innovation

The Government has acknowledged the need for streamlined, virtual service delivery during the pandemic. It has committed to the following initiatives:

  • Accessibility to Broadband Services: The Government is investing an additional $2.8 billion to bring broadband access to more people across the province, bringing Ontario’s total investment to nearly $4 billion over six years beginning 2019–20. The Government has stated that this funding will ensure that every region in the province has access to reliable broadband services by 2025.
  • Going Digital: The Government is introducing a new form of secure, electronic government issued ID that could be used to access government services, from children’s immunization records to sharing health information with caregivers and health providers, while protecting personal information.
  • Accessibility of the Justice System – The Government has reaffirmed its commitment to increase accessibility of the justice system by investing $28.5 million over four years to implement a new case management system for Tribunals Ontario, which will provide comprehensive online dispute resolution services and enhance parties’ ability to monitor cases online. This initiative is part of a broader justice modernization strategy which will support a more accessible, responsive and resilient justice system by establishing new and innovative ways of delivering services in person and online.

Supports for Developmental Services Sector

In addition to the above measures, the budget also proposes measures that would affect employers and service providers in the developmental services sector:

  • Funding to the DS Sector Generally – In its 2020 Budget, the Government promised increased funding of $361 million in 2021–22 in Developmental Services to continue to support clients currently in service and new high-risk clients. The Government reaffirmed this commitment but did not provide any new updates regarding this.
  • Extended Enhanced Wages for Personal Support Workers – The government is extending the wage enhancement for over 147,000 workers who deliver personal support services. This wage enhancement will continue for eligible workers until June 30, 2021 and it will continue to be reviewed.
  • Enhanced IPAC Spending – The Government launched infection prevention and control (“IPAC”) measures in Fall 2020 and in its 2020 Budget, it promised $30 million over two years to maintain IPAC measures in the social services sector (including group homes and congregate care settings). In the 2021 Budget, the Government has committed to investing $50 million in 2021–22 to ensure IPAC resources and expertise are available across the health system including hospitals and public health units as well as other congregate settings (such as residential settings for adults and children).

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.