Letter: Government defends lawsuit award caps for welfare, ODSP

I would like to address some inaccurate statements made in an Aug. 12 article, “‘Another kick’ to wronged plaintiffs,” and the subsequent editorial concerning important policies for social assistance recipients when they receive compensation awards, including those for pain and suffering.

When recipients of either Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program receive an award of money intended as compensation for pain and suffering, expenses incurred or to be incurred as a result of injury or death, loss of care or guidance and companionship, some of that money can be exempted so they can continue receiving assistance. The limit is $25,000 for Ontario Works participants or $100,000 for those receiving ODSP. The exemption threshold, combined with exemptible assets, provide considerable support for people in their path towards greater stability and independence without affecting their eligibility to remain on ODSP or Ontario Works.

In addition, for those in receipt of ODSP, there is an important provision that allows awards that are more than $100,000 to be exempted when there are high or ongoing future-care costs related to injuries sustained as a result of the accident. In these cases, the Ministry of Community and Social Services may increase the exemption beyond $100,000 to allow people to stay on ODSP if they have demonstrated that they have high future-care costs related to their injury.

The article incorrectly states that plaintiffs have to pay back to the government anything over $100,000 or they’ll be cut off. In some cases where a portion of the award is not exempt, recipients may be required to repay an amount for past Ontario Works or ODSP income support they received since the injury or the time their lawsuit was initiated. However, it is inaccurate to suggest that recipients must repay all of the award that hasn’t been exempted. The amount of reimbursement will not exceed the amount of past income support received.

Further, where a recipient receives an award that is not fully exempt, it could affect their ongoing eligibility. For example, the non-exempt portion of their award that is not attributable to past periods is counted as income in the month they receive it, which could make them ineligible for support in that month.
After that, any non-exempt portion of their award left over after any reimbursement to the ministry would be counted as assets, making them ineligible if they exceed their asset limit.

However, it is important to note that after any required reimbursement, any remaining non-exempt funds can be used to purchase an exempt asset such as a principal home, motor vehicle, registered education or disability savings plan or necessary household or personal items. If a person’s non-exempt assets fall within the allowable level, they may again qualify for social assistance.

Our policy on exemptions for compensation awards reflects the overall intent of our social assistance program as a means of last resort to help people who are in financial need.

The Ontario government recently announced an investment of more than $400 million over three years to improve the incomes of people who receive social assistance, promote better outcomes for them, and increase fairness in the system. Additional reforms to social assistance in response to the report by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh are being considered at this time. We are committed to ensuring our programs’ sustainability while remaining accountable to Ontario taxpayers.

Ted McMeekin,
Minister of Community and Social Services

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