How do you make an off-balance person really crazy? Put her on the Ontario Disability Support Program and see if she can keep body and soul together.After nine years on a disability pension, I'm still getting $930 a month although my rent has gone from $493 to $606 and my gas and hydro bills have more than doubled. Every time I turn on my ancient black-and-white TV, it seems there's an item about outrageous overspending by some government official or another, but ODSP recipients don't even rate cost-of-living increases and are expected to keep it together on stipends devised almost a decade ago.
Nothing changes at the ODSP except the regulations. At one time dental crowns were covered. Then they weren't. Then they were again. Now they're not. If you crack a molar and it can't be filled, all you're currently entitled to is an extraction and denture.
The same scenario applies to prescriptions. When the stress of grinding poverty causes an an outbreak of shingles or herpes (I have an anxiety disorder), I discover that the meds are no longer covered.
Qualifying for a medical transportation allowance means rounds of appointments to get doctors' letters that must be worded just so in order not to be rejected. A couple of years back I applied for doctor-prescribed dietary support (I am allergic to wheat, corn, oats and more) and was turned down. I found out last week, by accident, that diet allowances changed more than a year ago, so I'm now entitled to try the runaround and paper chase again.
How do you keep a fool in suspense? (I'll tell you tomorrow....) A few years back, the system changed from case workers to teams, and we, the people they're paid well to help, went from individuals classified by surname and birthdate to recipients identified by ODSP's own coded numbering. Gone are the days when a worker got to know a person's history and needs. Now, if I call, I always speak to a different stranger who handles part of the caseload for recipients with surnames from A to N.
Surviving on an ever-tightening budget is crazy-making. Spending $7 a month to keep a bank account is a necessary evil. A $2 jar of pickles is a luxury when I could spend that money on a dozen eggs or four cans of beans. A dollar for fries from a fast-food outlet would be reckless when I could buy six times that frozen. Buying second-hand is a necessity, not a virtue or a lark. I can't remember the last time I bought something crisp and new to wear, something with sharp creases and well-defined edges, or shoes not already worn in. I grew my hair to one length, and a friend marks it off with a strip of tape and cuts it; barber's scissors from Wal-Mart were cheaper for a lifetime than one salon cut.
I'm entitled to earn up to $160 a month without any deductions from my cheque. If I were to earn more than that I could keep 25 per cent of the over-$160 income. The rest would get incrementally clawed back.
But declaring any extra income means all future ODSP cheques are held until monthly earnings declarations are verified. Occasional work can create as much hassle as it relieves. Experiencing an episodic illness could set you up for disaster if you report late, receive your cheque correspondingly late and receive an eviction notice. (Did I mention I have an anxiety disorder?)
Because of inflationary rents, it's "recommended' that recipients have roommates, but if a recipient is physically intimate with his or her roommate, ODSP is entitled to scrutinize that person's income, too.
Special extras are available to some, but it's impossible to access them without help from someone who knows the system and can navigate loopholes. There are, for some, subsidized Metropasses or subsidized housing; for others there's just interminable lingering on waiting lists, with all the paper chase that staying on such lists demands.
So many on disability really can't get it together to budget or advocate effectively for themselves, yet somehow they survive. It's made me believe in guardian angels. How else do we manage? Without them, we wouldn't just fall through the cracks -- we'd topple into chasms. Dana Kendal is a pseudonym.