Posted April 7, 2020
“For Ontario disability recipients, you are living on the edge every day. You’re living with worry every day,” says Bob Murphy, who receives benefits from the Ontario Disability Services program (ODSP).
While Murphy can count on receiving ODSP benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the income he derives from a part-time job that he depends on to make ends meet.
In mid-March, he was laid off from his Saturday position representing a vendor at The Stop Farmer's Market at Artscape Wychwood Barns.
Murphy, who lives near Mount Dennis and serves as chair of ACORN Canada's York South–Weston chapter, receives ODSP due to an acquired brain injury related to a brain hemorrhage he suffered in 2011.
The Stop announced on March 12 it would halt the Saturday market until further notice due to COVID-19. Murphy worked his last shift on March 7 and received payment for the entire month in a show of support from his employer.
With the loss of that income beyond March, he’s left with about $288 per month after rent to cover virtually every other expense in his life, including food and phone and internet bills. He will have less after his rent increases in July. He doesn't qualify for employment insurance.
Any emergency expense will leave him with an impossible choice.
“There is no plan (for emergency spending),” he said. “I would not pay my phone bill or my internet bill. There’s no wiggle room. That’s how important these little part-time jobs are.”
Like Murphy, Weston resident Michael Bogart was supplementing his Ontario disability benefit with employment income he has since lost due to COVID-19. Without the wages from his job, Bogart said he struggles to afford healthy food, pay for public transit and even pay his rent.
“All of a sudden essentially I lost $1,000 just like that, and that was the money I was going to use to pay my rent and my bills,” he said.
Bogart said it’s difficult for Ontario disability recipients to save money for emergencies like this, even with supplemental employment income.
This is because of a policy that sees recipients lose part of their benefit when they earn more than $200 in a month. It means benefits progressively shrink as a recipient's outside income rises.
For someone like Bogart, no combination of earnings and benefits results in a high enough monthly income to cover anything beyond bills and groceries.
“I think the Ontario government needs to claw less money back from people like me,” Bogart said. “Let us save more of our money and let us keep more of our income so we can pay our bills and rent and buy decent food so we can be healthier in the long run.”
Etobicoke resident Peter D’Gama is on social assistance and also usually supplements that income with part-time work as a paralegal.
D'Gama recently lost his job doing court filings for lawyers when Ontario Superior Court closed on March 17 until further notice for all but “essential” cases, he said.
“So far it’s manageable,” D’Gama said of his financial well-being during the pandemic. “I’ve got a bit saved up. That should be able to get me through the next two to three months.”
Michael Esposti, 52, also combines income from a part-time job with his Ontario disability benefit, and is lucky enough to still be employed.
Esposti receives ODSB due to illness and walks with a cane.
Recently, his contract as an outreach worker ended after three years with St. Stephen’s Community House drop-in in Kensington Market. When it did, LAMP Community Health Centre stepped in to offer him two additional shifts a week.
“I’m doing OK,” said Esposti, who lives in Parkdale. “It’s probably harder on people not on ODSP, who have been laid off their jobs because of COVID-19.”
Still, living on ODSP isn’t easy. Earning an additional income definitely helps, Esposti said.
“Basically, they take half of my ODSP back because of my part-time income,” said Esposti, adding he thinks that’s fair. “I get about $1,200 a month. I have benefits. So ODSP is about $14,000 a year. The poverty rate in Canada is about $22,000 for a single person. So, the ODSP is about $8,000 below the poverty line.
“When you work, if you can work, you bring yourself above the poverty line.”
Article by Megan DeLaire for Toronto.com