It shouldn't be shameful to admit that the province pays my basic living expenses. But I know for some out there, taking cash from the government is a mortal sin that ranks up there with bestiality. Three years ago, after a paper odyssey through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) bureaucracy, I learned I qualified for support on account of the horrific, crippling pain of my 80-year-old bones though I'm just 32.
My experience was unusual. Most applicants, already worn out by illness, get ground down by an unhelpful, Orwellian system filled with disinformation and requiring an advocate or advanced research, reading and comprehension skills. But my good karma and intolerable pain pushed me through the system expeditiously.
At the time I applied, half those who applied were denied ODSP, according to Ministry of Community and Social Services stats. Since then, the figures show, acceptance rates have steadily increased, thanks to the ouster of the provincial Tories. Currently, 160,000 single disabled Ontarians receive ODSP, while the rolls under the Tories hovered around the 140,000 mark.
Yes, more are making it through the ODSP gates, but in every other way expectations raised by Dalton McGuinty's Liberals have now turned to mush.
For all the promises, consider that Pinocchio premier Dalton McGuinty only raised our allowance by $29, or 3 per cent a month. Our grand total for a year is now $11,380. It's the highest in Canada, but you can imagine what can be bought of life's pleasures with this.
Regardless of where one resides in the province, ODSP allots only $427 for a single person for rent. You actually have to show the landlord's receipts. Not even deep in the 90s could someone find a habitable home with $427 in their pocket. And those in rent-controlled abodes don't get to save the money it goes back to Dalton.
Sadly and scarily, not everyone has someone in their life to make up the shortfall inherent in surviving on $12,000 by buying groceries, a movie ticket, a coffee or a haircut.
But that isn't the only crushing disappointment. The Libs have made no commitment to furthering ODSP clients' ability to make their own cashola. Yes, they did raise the ceiling on allowable additional income but only by a mean 10 bucks a month. An ODSP recipient can earn $160 monthly after taxes ($1,920 a year), up from $150, but everything over $160 is clawed back.
In the tele-commuting, contract-based, small business society we're becoming, however, it's not hard to hit the monthly cap for those with a few good days a month. Why can't the government allow us a little cake on our less painful days by encouraging us to earn bucks that can ease the long, horrible ones? I fear it's because the 'crats have no understanding of what this good-day/bad-day lifestyle is really about.
During this assignment, for example, a day and a half of bouncy barometric pressure created big-time hand and disc swelling that crippled me to tears. On these kinds of days, I catch up on couch culture. (Wrestling DVDs, are my favourite and make me sleepy). Watching television is probably good for me; it means I'm resting. But how many people need to assess their strength before embarking on a half-hour of video games? Slowly recovering, I read and clue back into the world lying on the amazing hand-me-down-from-Grandma leather art deco couch. In this mode, I still allow the e-mail to pile up, because if I get stressed I'm going to get worse again.
In my life, as in that of every chronically ill person, health is at the top of the to-do list, and an afternoon nap a necessity. But shouldn't we be allowed to use whatever excess energy we have left to join the rest of the world and trade our skills for luxuries?
As I've said, we can, but only to the tune of an extra $1,920 a year, bringing the grand total up to $13,428. So a person declared unable to earn his or her own dosh due to illness isn't close to Ontario's $20,337 poverty line, set by the National Council of Welfare.
True, the system allows you to receive gifts totalling up to $5,000 a year (taxable, of course) from friends, family, sugar mamas and bud benefactors. For ODSP clients who have such a support team willing and able to poverty pamper, this is life-saving. But even these lucky few fall short of the poverty line by 2 grand.
My source is my granny, who follows federal Liberal crony methods by placing an envelope in with a bag of homemade frozen soup. All sources of "somewhere money" (the poverty philosophy of "somewhere I'll find the money"), including my writing and her generosity, provide me with an additional $6,920. Some of this goes toward the youthful thrift-store bohemian that disguises my disability fantastically. Lots of people use their little extra to cover costs not picked up by ODSP, Trillium or OHIP. Chiropractor, massage and greens are on my list.
Another source of possible cash, funds held in trust, has a mess of strings attached. Regs concerning the funds held in trust, updated in April 2005, allow for a maximum of $100,000 to be stashed on behalf of a client . Five different kinds of trusts are permitted, including money from insurance settlements or inheritance, but usually the ODSP client service rep has sole discretion to decide when and under what conditions the recipient can receive any money.
Not until the province provided its quick ruling on my progressive state did it dawn on me that something was seriously wrong with my health. Supporters who fight alongside their loved ones to get them on ODSP rolls don't intend their victory well-wishes to be seen as "Hey, congratulations, the province finally believes you're disabled and need money." Many never recover from that day-one "Here's your handout" mental shocker. Friend Sadie C. put that behind me recently with her words of wisdom: "The government gives you money so you can tell them what they're doing wrong."