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Leah Myers presentation of the Commission for Review of Social Assistance in Ontario

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  • 1. Leah Myers Commission for Review of Social Assistance in Ontario November 3, 2011 ODEN Conference
  • 2. Purpose of this Session
    • To provide an update on the work of the Commission
    • To have the opportunity to discuss the process and what we have heard
  • 3. Background
    • Ontario’s 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy announced that the review of social assistance with a focus on removing barriers and increasing opportunities for people to work
      • This commitment was reinforced in subsequent provincial Budgets and in the annual progress reports of the Poverty Reduction Strategy
    • In late 2009, the Minister set up the Social Assistance Review Advisory Council (SARAC) to recommend the Review’s scope
      • In May 2010, the Minister received recommendations from SARAC and announced the appointment of the Commissioners and the Terms of Reference, reflecting SARAC’s advice, on November 30 th , 2010
    • The Commission is being asked to provide the government with specific recommendations and a concrete action plan to improve the social assistance system, with a final report to be submitted to the Minister by June 30 th , 2012
  • 4. The Task: Outcomes for the Review
    • The Terms of Reference developed by government describes five key outcomes; these outcomes statements provide the focus for dialogue with stakeholders and for the Commission’s research priorities
    • Specifically, the Commission’s recommendations will enable government to:
      • establish an appropriate benefit structure that reduces barriers and supports people’s transition into, and attachment within the labour market
        • This includes guaranteeing security for those who cannot work
      • place reasonable expectations on, and provide supports for, people who rely on social assistance with respect to active engagement in the labour market and participation in treatment and rehabilitation
      • simplify income and asset rules to improve equity and make it easier to understand and administer social assistance
      • ensure the long-term viability of the social assistance system
      • define Ontario’s position vis-a-vis the federal and municipal government as it relates to income security for Ontarians
  • 5.  
  • 6. Engagement Process
    • In early June, we formally launched our engagement process with a Discussion Paper to focus the conversation on solutions, by identifying the challenges and trade-offs in the way forward
    • We encouraged people across Ontario to come together in groups to engage in cross-community dialogue so that proposed solutions reflected the perspectives of different regions and communities.
      • A Guide to Hosting a Community Conversation and a video message from the Commissioners were made available on the website to support community conversation
    • The Commissioners joined these “community conversations”, in 11 communities during June and July. In each community, local organizations were asked to convene sessions and site visits over the course of a day involving a wide range of stakeholders.
  • 7. Engagement Process (cont’d.)
    • All told, the Commissioners connected with over 2000 people through these visits.
    • In addition, many other communities also responded to the invitation to organize community conversations and send in the ideas generated at the sessions.
    • The website provided a number of ways for people to respond to the paper, including through the online workbook, by sending in a written submission or making a short comment. A 1-800 number was publicized on the site.
    • We received over 700 submissions through these various means; many of these are posted on our website so that people can learn about the perspectives of others on the issues and solutions
  • 8. Engagement Process (cont’d.)
    • In addition, there have been numerous meetings with key stakeholders, including:
      • people with lived experience
      • municipalities and municipal organizations
      • labour organizations
      • front-line service workers and service providers, including ODEN
      • legal clinics and advocates, and
      • employers
    • We are particularly reaching out this fall to the business and employer community to better understand their needs, including:
      • ODEN employer Champions League
      • Employers experienced with Toronto-based employment services, in advance of potential broader-based groups of employers
      • Ontario Chamber of Commerce
  • 9. Engagement with First Nations
    • In keeping with its mandate, the Commission is holding “separate and substantive discussions with First Nations to ensure reforms that reflect their needs and priorities”, as directed in the Commission’s Terms of Reference
    • We are engaging with the Chiefs of Ontario, the Ontario Native Welfare Administrators Association whose members deliver OW on reserve, and the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres that represent those working with urban aboriginals
    • The Commissioners are also meeting with political leadership and communities through regional sessions with various First Nations communities across the province. These will continue through the end of November
  • 10. Next Steps in our Process
    • Key activities of the Commission include:
      • Synthesis of what we have heard in consultations
      • Policy analysis work by the Commission Policy and Research team
        • Work on ODSP and mental health is of particular priority
      • Outreach to groups with expertise and relevant research such as:
        • CAMH on mental health and “the aspiring workforce”
        • Dr. Gina Browne from McMaster on impacts of integrated case management
        • Various think tanks on issues in the benefit structure
    • Preparation of a second discussion paper on possible approaches to reform, for release in early winter; obtaining feedback on the paper through winter/spring
    • Release of final report: June 2012
  • 11. ODEN Submission
    • The Commissioners had a very useful meeting with ODEN representatives and subsequently with some of the employers in ODEN’s Champions’ League. As a follow-up, they will be meeting with Lt.-Gov. David Onley in early December to further discuss the issues of employment with persons with disabilities
    • The ODEN submission provided valuable advice on the key issues raised in the Discussion Paper, including:
      • The “Employment First” model which recognizes the importance of employment and the potential contribution of people with disabilities
      • The importance of inter-ministerial and inter-jurisdictional coordination, with consistent and integrated funding
      • The need for investment in employment services
      • The importance of seeing the employers as clients, and providing supports to job retention
      • The need for standards of practice
  • 12. ODEN Submission (cont’d.)
    • The submission had a good discussion of incentives and disincentives and pointed to some of the real impacts of such features of the current system as assets limits, claw-backs, “overpayments”, and the lack of health benefits available outside social assistance
    • It also spoke to solutions in terms of regional variations in rates, alternatives to depletion of assets, different approaches to those who need only short-term income support assistance, changes in reporting and application processes
  • 13. Today’s Discussion
    • In closing, I want to point out that many other stakeholders have suggested perspectives and solutions similar to that of ODEN
      • I encourage you to look at the other submission posted on our website, and consider the perspectives of others as we keep the discussion going on possible approaches to reform
    • I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today and look forward to your comments, including your thoughts on:
      • How to achieve better coordination between ministry employment programs and employment services providers
      • What should be done to enhance connections to and supports to employers