Welfare recipients see boost in asset limits in Ontario budget

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Ontario is making it easier for people on social assistance to get help from family and avoid the need to deplete their assets before getting help, according to Thursday’s budget.

The four-year $480 million investment will raise asset limits, boost exemptions for cash gifts and increase monthly benefits for more than 900,000 Ontarians who rely on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP.)

“People who are able to build savings are more resilient and better able to manage temporary financial setbacks,” according to budget documents.

More on the 2017 Ontario budget

Starting in January, asset limits for single people on OW will rise from $2,500 to $10,000, while asset limits go up from $5,000 to $15,000 for couples.

For those receiving ODSP benefits, cash and other liquid asset limits will jump from $5,000 to $40,000 for individuals and increase for couples from $7,000 to $50,000.

The exemption for cash gifts will increase from $6,000 to $10,000 a year for both ODSP and OW recipients, beginning in next September.

Gifts from family and friends used to pay first and last month’s rent, to purchase a principal residence or buy a vehicle, will no longer be clawed back from people on social assistance, according to budget documents.

The government’s income security working group has been meeting since last summer to develop a “multi-year roadmap” to further reform Ontario’s overly complex and rule-bound social assistance system, the budget notes.

The working group is expected to make its recommendations before the end of the year.

In other initiatives to ensure Ontario uses its strengthened finances to ensure “no one is ever left behind,” Finance Minister Charles Sousa highlighted the government’s recently announced basic income pilot project.

The three-year $150 million experiment will give 4,000 adults under age 64 as much as $17,000 in no-strings-attached payments starting this summer in the Hamilton and Thunder Bay areas and in Lindsay next fall.

The payments are equal to about 75 per cent of the province’s poverty line of about $22,653 for a single person in 2016.

As Sousa said in his budget speech, the pilot will “see if providing people with a basic income could be a simpler and more effective way to ensure security and opportunity in a changing job market, support people living on low incomes and reduce poverty.”

Although anti-poverty activists had called for a significant hike in social assistance rates while the government tests the more generous basic income, the budget essentially flat-lines rates with a 2 per cent inflationary increase.

“There is always more to be done,” Sousa told reporters when questioned about the meagre increase. “We’re doing as much as we can right now.”

A single person on OW would receive an additional $15 a month for a total of $721 while a single person on ODSP would get an extra $23 a month for a total of $1,151, according to government officials.

A single parent with one child on OW would receive $1,101 a month, including $115 in the Ontario child benefit.

The rate increase takes effect in September 2017 for ODSP and October for OW.

In other measures to help vulnerable Ontarians, the budget is investing $667 million over four years to improve services for adults with developmental disabilities and their families.

In 2017-18, the funding will support 375 more residential placements for individuals with urgent needs and youth transitioning from the child welfare system. This is in addition to 1,400 residential placements that have been added since 2015.

The money will provide funding to an additional 1,000 adults with developmental disabilities this year to help them participate in community programs and hire support workers. The increased funding to the program called Passport will raise the total number helped to 27,000 this year.

Over the next two years, the government will work with families and community partners to help 400 young adults with developmental disabilities transition to adult services.

As the Star reported earlier this week, a Timmins father has launched a $110 million class action lawsuit after his developmentally disabled 19-year-old daughter lost government services when she turned 18. She is currently among more than 11,000 adults waiting for Passport services.