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Public Policy Submissions Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Barriers to ODSP: Conclusion and Recommendations

Conclusions and Recommendations

The issues documented in this report demonstrate that even when clients are successful with their applications for income support their financial concerns are often not addressed. Administrative errors can result in delays in payment, lost cheques, inappropriate termination of benefits and so forth. For most clients, the benefits received do not last for the entire month. Furthermore, restrictions on transportation support and barriers to employment make it hard for recipients to take steps to improve their financial situation.

It is important to note that people who need ODSP benefits are also facing other tremendous personal struggles and require support and assistance. What they encounter is an unresponsive system that creates undue stress and hardship and often interferes with recovery. It is for this reason that CAMH has put the IMAP program in place and continues to dedicate staff resources towards assisting clients to navigate this system. We have highlighted recommendations for reform that specifically refer to the problems outlined in this paper and also strongly endorse the other recommendations put forward by the ODSP Action Coalition in their report "Access to ODSP Campaign Summary of Forum Reports", as well as those illustrated by the report of the Income Security Advocacy Centre, "Denial by Design…The Ontario Disability Support Program".

Inadequacy of Funds

  • First and foremost ODSP rates should be increased.
  • Rates should be adjusted annually to reflect cost of living increases.

Eligibility and Reassessment

  • Lengthen the reassessment period from the current two years for clients whose condition essentially remains unchanged.
  • Simplify the reassessment process to include only a medical summary of the current condition.
  • Addiction should be recognized as a disability and the statutory ban on eligibility for clients with addictions should be eliminated.
  • Rapid reinstatement policies should be applied to clients already granted ODSP, but whose benefits are temporarily discontinued due to hospitalization or incarceration.

Client Services

  • Individual ODSP case workers should be assigned to clients in order improve access to information and to increase accountability.
  • Service standards should generally be improved and clients should be treated with basic courtesies and respect.
  • All clients should be given clear and accurate written information that outlines their entitlements and responsibilities under the ODSP system.
  • Provide clear written information regarding start-up allowance benefits and process requests in a timely fashion.
  • Any written information sent to clients should be checked for accuracy, be clear regarding the purpose, and include a contact name and number that clients can easily access to receive clarification.

Transportation Assistance

  • Extend eligibility for more than just medical appointments to reflect the need for a multidisciplinary approach to recovery.
  • Automatically increase the allowance when transit fares increase rather than having the client apply for an increase.

Employment

  • Clients should be given clear, written information regarding the income reporting rules.
  • Clients should also be given clear, written information regarding their entitlements to drug and dental benefits while working.
  • The one-year extension for drug and dental benefits should be lengthened.
  • Drug and dental benefit applications should be processed in a timely manner.
  • Increase the amount of monthly money that clients can keep before they receive a reduction in monthly ODSP allowances.

Appendix "A"

One Client's Experience

One client described a set of similar problems that he had experienced in his efforts to deal with ODSP.

On a number of occasions, he tried to contact a worker to get some clarification on ODSP forms he needed to complete. He received no calls in return. He also called several times seeking information on the ODSP job-retraining program. When he finally spoke to someone at ODSP they were unable to give him any information about the program, did not forward his call to anyone else, and did not even give him any suggestions on how he might follow up to get the information he was looking for.

The client has a serious physical condition that requires expensive maintenance medication. Although he is able to work part time, he was receiving some ODSP benefits as well as coverage for his medication. He asked an advocate to review his case to determine if he might be eligible for additional benefits. The advocate told him that he qualified for extended benefits. When he contacted a worker at ODSP, he was simply told that they didn't know anything about it.

Subsequently his drug card was cut off, forcing him to go off his medication. When he contacted ODSP to find out why he'd been cut off, he was told that he was reported to have excessive assets. The worker refused or was unable to provide any details, beyond saying it "could be artwork or jewellery." The client reports that his artwork consists of posters and his jewellery was purchased from street vendors. Neither have any significant financial value. After some investigation, he was reinstated and went back on his medication. Unfortunately, his system rejected the medication, apparently because of the lapse, causing him serious health problems including a trip to emergency.

When he recovered, he signed a waiver to get off ODSP except for the drug card. This was to preclude further problems. He also enquired about a disability expense, which someone had described to him as an allowance to cover expenses related to returning to work. One worker said they would fill out an application for him, but no application was submitted on his behalf. In his efforts to pursue this potential benefit, another worker did not return his calls. When he complained about this situation to yet another worker, the worker stated or implied he was lying to them. He has since involved a lawyer to handle all contacts with ODSP.

On his return to work, he specifically asked ODSP not to contact his employer, and requested that any contact with him be through his lawyer. He was working in a retail setting and was the first and only openly gay staff member working for this company. He says someone from ODSP called his employer and three days later, he was fired. In addition, other staff members would not use the same washroom after the phone call. He believes that ODSP revealed something about his medical status to the employer, and that it got out to other employees.

After losing his job and getting legal assistance, ODSP agreed to provide him with a new worker. The previous worker had hung up on him, snapped at him, and told him she had a heavy caseload and didn't have time to discuss his concerns. It is also his understanding that she had instructed a clerk in her office to contact his place of employment, which he feels resulted in the job loss.

The nature of the ODSP-related stress the client reports, and its continuation over a protracted period, no doubt had a significant impact on his mental health, particularly when combined with the other health issues he was dealing with.

References

Baldwin, Dana M. (1998) The Subsistence Adaptation of Homeless Mentally Ill Women. Human Organizations, 57, 190-199.

Estroff, Sue E., Zimmer, C., Lachicotte, W.S., Benoit, J. & Patrick, D. (1997) "No Other Way to Go": Pathways to Disability Income Application among Persons with Severe, Persistent Mental Illness. In Bonnie, Richard J. (ed.) Mental Disorder, Work Disability, and the Law, pp.55-97. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Gelberg, Lillian & Linn, Lawrence S. (1988) Social and Physical Health of Homeless Adults Previously Treated for Mental Health Problems. Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 39, 510-516.

Lafave, H., deSouza, H., Prince, P., Atchison, K. & Gerber, G. (1995) Partnerships for People With Serious Mental Illness Who Live Below the Poverty Line. Psychiatric Services, 46, 1071-1073.

Lehman, A., Kernan, E., DeForge, B. & Dixon, L. (1995) Effects of Homelessness on the Quality of Life of Persons with Severe Mental Illness. Psychiatric Services, 46, 922-926.

McBride, Timothy D., Calsyn, R., Morse, G., Klinkenberg, W. & Allen, G. (1998) Duration of Homeless Spells Among Severely Mentally Ill Individuals: A Survival Analysis. Journal of Community Psychology, 26, 473-490.

ODSP Action Coalition, "Access to ODSP Campaign Summary of Forum Reports", 2002.

Polak, Paul & Warner, Richard (1996) The Economic Life of Seriously Mentally Ill People in the Community. Psychiatric Services, 47, 270-274.

Rosenheck, Robert, Frisman, L. & Kasprow, W. (1999) Improving Access to Disability Benefits Among Homeless Persons With Mental Illness: An Agency Specific Approach to Service Integration. American Journal of Public Health, 89, 524-528.

Segal, Steven P., & Choi, Namkee, G. (1991) Factors Affecting SSI Support for Sheltered Care Residents with Serious Mental Illness. Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 42, 1132-1137.

Sullivan, G., Burnam, A., Koegel, P. & Hollenberg, J. (2000) Quality of Life of Homeless Persons With Mental Illness: Results From the Course-of-Homelessness Study Psychiatric Services, 51, 1135-1141.

Wilkey, Cynthia, Frenschkowski, J. & Fraser, J. (2002) Denial By Design: The Ontario Disability Support Program. Toronto, ON: Income Security Advo

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