ODSP during the pandemic: A risk-reward analysis with Rachel Romu18 September 2020 / by Sam Dharmasena (author)
For years, disability advocate Rachel Romu questioned the justification for a $1,169 cap on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). When Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was announced in spring 2020 with a $2,000 monthly support, it confirmed many of Romu’s suspicions.
“People with disabilities may have beyond basic needs as a result of different spending based on their health care needs, housing situations … it’s been particularly frustrating to see that inequity highlighted as not a suspicion but a concrete fact by the numbers,” Romu said.
Fast forward to September and Romu is now returning to work even though they have two pre-existing health conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19. Romu said it’s a risk-reward analysis that is common for many people with disabilities in Toronto and beyond.
Romu left Toronto not long after the pandemic hit and has been living in their hometown of Thunder Bay. Now that Toronto has entered Stage 3, Romu is returning to work and is in the city for a 10-day modeling gig. Without a permanent home in the city anymore, they expressed frustrations searching for safe and affordable short-term accommodation. They couldn’t cover travel costs and Toronto hotel rates so they posted a social media call out in search of a friend that might have a spare bedroom. In the midst of a global pandemic and a tight timeline, it felt like an impossible search at times.
Eventually, Romu found a home but their house hunt speaks to a common pain point: the inadequate income support from ODSP is putting people with disabilities at greater risk. Especially within the context of a global pandemic where the World Health Organization has mentioned people with disabilities as a population that can be impacted more significantly by COVID-19.
Even when Romu was based in Toronto, the economics of ODSP and Toronto living were never in sync.
“I can’t explain how frustrating and difficult it is to ask for housing far below the market value because it outs yourself as poor ... I do a lot so you can’t tell because I don’t want the stigma that comes with it,” Romu said.
According to the Minisitry of Children, Community, and Social Services, ODSP provides a maximum income support of $1,169 monthly for single people with disabilities. An individual can earn $200 per month, after that there is a 50 per cent deduction on every dollar earned.
In comparison, the Government of Canada states that CERB recipients are given $2,000 monthly and an individual can earn up to $1,000.
It has put things in perspective for Romu, who is currently on ODSP and working as a model, musician and disability advocate.
“I see alot of my entertainment industry peers really struggling with $2,000 [a month] and I’m sitting here quietly with half of that, in private and in shame, and with a lot of blame from the government and society where disabled people are considered lazy if they’re in a position where they can’t work,” Romu said.
To learn more about Romu’s story, listen to the interview below.
To learn more about realities of living on ODSP, Romu suggests following #ODSPoverty and @OCAPtoronto on twitter.