On April 11, 2019, the government of Ontario presented its first budget, Protecting What Matters Most. In its plan, the government laid out its top four priorities for the province: balancing the budget, health care and education, affordability and convenience for Ontarians and lowering the costs of business. The budget includes aspects that are of particular interest to the disability community, namely changes to the social services sector, mental health programming, accessibility, housing programs, estate planning and education:
SOCIAL SERVICES AND ASSISTANCE
The budget of the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) will be reduced from $17 billion in 2018-19 to $16 billion in 2021-22, decreasing 2.1% annually. The government intends to generate the planned $1 billion in savings through reforms to social assistance and sector-wide initiatives that would target operational efficiencies. The anticipated changes include the following:
- Social Assistance Reform
The government plans to reform the social assistance system by “simplifying the rate structure, reducing administration, cutting unnecessary rules and providing opportunities to achieve better employment outcomes for social assistance recipients.” While specific changes have yet to be announced, the planned reforms include redesigning and simplifying the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) for people with “severe” disabilities and integrating supports from social assistance with Employment Ontario. As we have previously discussed eligibility may become more difficult to establish under these proposed reforms, particularly for people with mental health and/or episodic disabilities.
- Administrative and Funding Transfer Efficiencies
The government will target “efficiencies” in the children’s and social services sector through the integration of human service programs, streamlining of transfer payment processes, transformation of services to increase choice for individuals and families and evidence-based sector transformation, including developmental services, “special needs” and early intervention programs. While the implications of these proposed changes are far from clear, given recent reforms in autism services and health, we expect that this may signal significant changes for agencies acting as eligibility and assessment gateways for services and funding, such as Developmental Services Ontario (DSO) agencies, as well as increase focus on direct funding. For families, this may increase the likelihood of paying for private supports in the future. For more information on using direct funding to pay private workers, visit our Learn section here.
- Children’s Services and Child Care
The government remains focused on clearing 23,000 children from the waitlist for access to autism services through the Ontario Autism Program (OAP). The government plans to expand eligible services, smooth the transition for families receiving services and ensure that children under 18 are diagnosed so that they are eligible for Childhood Budgets (which provide families with direct funding). While exact timelines for families and autism service providers remain unclear, future reductions in existing funding for families and agencies are a sad, but undeniable reality.
The government also communicated the following:
- The introduction of the Ontario Childcare Access and Relief from Expenses (CARE) tax credit, which includes up to $8,250 for a child with a severe disability in families with low to moderate incomes.
- Investment in the construction of the Grandsview Children’s Centre in Ajax and the Children’s Treatment Centre at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) campus in Ottawa to ensure greater access to services for children with disabilities.
- No cuts will be made to the Special Services at Home program, for this year at least, which provides an average of $3,600 per year to families of children with disabilities.
Overall, the budget refers to “disability” only 10 times, and “developmental services” only once. While programming for children with disabilities and autism did receive some attention, adult services were all but absent. In particular, no information was provided as to whether sustainability funding granted by the Liberals in their pre-election budget in 2018 will be annualized as intended, nor whether any other cuts to funding are planned. As we are already well into the first month of the fiscal year 2019-2020, the precarity of supports and the developmental services system as a whole is being felt province-wide.
The government signalled that it will make new investments in mental health, including the following:
- An investment of $3.8 billion over 10 years to address mental health, addiction and housing supports and $174 million in 2019-20 to support community mental health and addictions services, mental health and justice services, supportive housing, and acute mental health inpatient beds. This includes increased capacity through projects such as the Sunnybrook Health Science Centre’s Hurvitz Brain Sciences Centre.
- The government has signed two bilateral agreements with Health Canada to assist the province in funding a comprehensive mental health and addictions system.
- A Consumption and Treatment Services model and Rapid Access Addiction Medicine clinics will provide specialized treatment and referrals to people with addictions.
The government will partner with the Rick Hansen Foundation and invest $1.3 million over two years to launch the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program to prepare accessibility assessments of businesses and public buildings and remove any identified barriers for people with disabilities. For now, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and its reporting requirements for employers do not appear to have been targeted.
The government’s Community Housing Renewal Strategy, along with the Housing Supply Action Plan, will create incentives for community housing providers to provide affordable housing, simplify rent-geared-to-income (RGI) calculations, streamline and update waitlists for social housing and address community safety concerns of vulnerable populations.
The government will also undertake a comprehensive review of supportive housing programs, including those for people with developmental and physical disabilities, as well as mental health issues. The review will identify opportunities to streamline and improve coordination of supportive housing programs.
No new funding, however, has been to allocated to develop or provide additional supportive housing programs this fiscal year.
For families or individuals who may be planning for the future, it is worth noting that, as of January 1, 2020, the government will cut the Estate Administration Tax (EAT) for all taxable estates. The EAT will be eliminated for estates worth $50,000 or less, and reduced by for larger estates. This will provide a significant benefit for people (and their families) whose non-exempt assets fall below the $50,000 threshold.
The government has promised to draft a Parents’ Bill of Rights in order to facilitate communication between parents, schools and school boards. Under the bill of rights, parents will have the ability to withdraw their children from lessons, classes and schools when they do not agree with the content being taught, in addition to expressing their opinions on what is being taught. The apparent purpose of this bill of rights would be to allow parents to prevent their children from learning about more controversial topics such as sexual health education. It remains to be seen whether this bill of rights will also allow parents to better advocate for their children in other areas, such as in advocating for accommodations for students with disabilities in the classroom or at school.
PooranLaw will keep you informed and provide further analysis as we learn more about the budget, particularly any details related to social assistance such as ODSP. In the interim, if you have any questions or wish to discuss the implications of these changes, please contact Brendon Pooran at email@example.com.
A full text of the budget may be accessed here.