Dalton McGuinty, Premier
Toronto ON M7A 1A1
Fax: (416) 325-3745.
Subject: Special Diet Allowance and adequacy of OW and ODSP rates
Dear Premier McGuinty
I am writing to request that you and your government reconsider the 2010 budget measure to cancel the special diet allowance that many people receiving Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support have need of.
A nurse at a community health centre once wrote that before the special diet allowance she could administer iron shots to poor people suffering from anemia but could not give them a nutritious food basket that would treat their condition at the source.
March 25, as part of its 2010 budget, your government announced that it will cancel the Special Diet Allowance Program and replace it with a new program.
The new program will be different:
- it will be a “nutritional supplement” program – not a “special diet” program
- it is intended to only help people with “severe medical needs” – not the people who need special dietary treatment to manage their conditions and prevent worse health
- not everyone who is currently on Special Diet will be eligible for the new program – so the government will save money
- it will be run and paid for by the Ministry of Health – not the Ministry of Community and Social Services
Details of the new program are expected “in the near future” with a transition period of nine to twelve months during which the new program will be set up. No one is to lose their Special Diet Allowance until the new program is set up.
Cancelling the Special Diet Allowance is a blow to people already unable to afford nutritious food baskets.
Last year, the Special Diet program invested more than $200 million in dietary support to people on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) who have special food needs due to their medical conditions.
OW Shelter Allowances simply do not allow recipients to afford real local rents unless they take money from their food and basic needs budgets to pay the rent.
December 2009 OW Shelter Allowances Average Ontario Rents 2008 (CMHC)
Single $364 $691 bachelor apartment
Couple $572 $820 1 bedroom
1 parent & 1 child $572 $948 2 bedroom
1 parent & 2 children $620 $1,168 3 bedroom
Couple & 1 child $620 $948 2 bedroom
Like other Ontarians who invested so much hope in the government’s poverty reduction strategy, I am shocked and disappointed by this decision to cancel the Diet Supplement.
Taking $200 million out of the pockets of the poorest members of Ontario communities is a set back to the government’s own poverty reduction strategy.
We all vividly remember the 22% cut to welfare rates in 1995 implemented by Mike Harris when he was elected Premier.
After the 22% cut in 1995 a single person on OW with no dependents received a maximum of $520 a month.
If the Ontario Works rate today were the same in 2010 dollar purchasing power as the OW rate in 1995 after the Harris cut, a single person receiving the maximum OW benefit today should be getting $690 a month.
With the 1% increase to welfare rates announced by your government, a single person on OW will be receiving $590 maximum per month maximum.
In other words, a single person OW is getting exactly $100 less per month in real purchasing power now compared to 1995 after the 22% cut.
Cancellation is not compliance with the Human Rights Tribunal
The government was recently ordered by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to increase allowances for people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity – which are widely known to put people at risk for heart disease – and to add low blood protein to the list of conditions covered.
This is because the Tribunal found that the special diet allowance program was discriminating against people with these conditions. But instead of complying with this order, the government is ending the discrimination by eliminating the program.
Eliminating the program does mean that everyone will be treated equally.
The link between poverty and poor health is proven
It is well established by the studies like “Poverty is making us Sick” done by the Wellesley Institute and the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto that people living on low incomes are much more likely to have serious health problems –
— 2 x the rate of diabetes,
— 60% greater chance of more chronic health conditions,
— 3 x the rate of bronchitis,
— 2 x the rate of arthritis
These issues only compound over time adding cost to the province’s mounting health care bill.
And because of the discrimination against people with disabilities, people with serious health problems are much more likely to need support from OW and ODSP.
I ask how people losing so much purchasing power from their meager welfare incomes could not be forced to the special diet allowance after the government itself began promoting the program in 2003?
Your government defends its decision to cancel Special Diet by pointing to the auditor general’s December 2009 report, which suggested that many people who receive support – and their doctors, nurses, and dieticians – are purposely abusing the program.
Entire programs are not cancelled because of claims of abuse.
I look at the ehealth situation. There, the government fired senior executives and fixed the way the funds were administered. The Minister of Health felt compelled to resign.
But the government didn’t cancel the health program. That’s because there is still a need for the program.
Welfare is already a punitive system. This is why your government started its social assistance review. But, the cancellation of the special diet allowance is but one more punitive measure.
Current OW and ODSP rules essentially make it not only impossible but also unlawful for people to get enough money to afford a nutritious diet and live a life of dignity.
If you have a car with $10,000 or more you have to sell it. That could be your life line to another job.
If you get a job, you lose prescription drug coverage from social assistance that could be vital to your health and survival unless your new employer has a drug benefit plan. Low wage jobs typically don’t have drug plans.
If you work at a job, half your income gets deducted from your welfare benefits.
If you get financial support from family or friends, that support is deducted.
If you take out a loan, it’s counted as income and it’s deducted even though you have to pay the loan back.
Rules like this condemn people on OW and ODSP to live in poverty and at increased risk for chronic disease and serious health conditions.
What we are calling for
I am joining the ODSP Action Coalition, Put Food in the Budget campaign and others who are asking for your government to
- maintain the $200 million in direct financial support for people with special dietary needs, and increase support as need grows.
- make sure that everyone on OW or ODSP who needs dietary support to maintain their health gets that support.
- ensure equality in its programs by raising the standards for all.
I strongly recommend in addition that your government look at raising welfare incomes in line with objective, independent criteria and create a three component welfare benefit appropriate to the family size consisting of:
1) a shelter allowance tied to current real average rents as reported by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC);
2) a nutrition allowance tied to the cost of nutritious food baskets as calculated by local health authorities;
3) a basic needs allowance for other necessities such as clothing, transportation, etc set in meaningful and respectful consultation with people in poverty
Cc: CAW National Executive Board, CAW Assistants, Directors, National Representatives (Ontario) and CAW Local Unions (Ontario)
Leader of the Official Opposition
Leader of the NDP caucus
President, Ontario Federation of Labour
ODSP Action Coalition
Income Security Advocacy Centre
Put Food in the Basket campaign, STOP Community Food Centre