Update to the Gifts and Assets Limit Initiative
The Coalition for Change to the Disability Gift and Asset Limits is very happy to say that after over a year of hard work educating and informing policy makers and politicians, in April 2017 the Government of Ontario announced changes to the gift and asset limits of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
- The asset limit which had been $5,000 as of January 2018 will be $40,000.
- The voluntary gift and payment limit which had been $6,000 in a 12-month period as of September 2018 will be $10,000 in a 12-month period.
Our Coalition had asked for higher limits. Our goal was to see an asset limit of $100,000 and unlimited gift limits so we will continue to work, together with the Government, towards this change in the months to come.
Nevertheless, we are grateful for any improvements made to our social security system and we hope that the progress towards improving the lives of persons with disabilities in Ontario continues.
Thanks to the advisory committee and all the Coalition supporters, our collective voice was what enabled this change.
Why continue to work towards changes in the gift and asset limits?
Poverty continues to be one of multiple barriers to full economic citizenship for persons receiving disability benefits in Ontario. We need to work towards changes to the gift and asset limits:
1. To make Ontario a more accessible province
Until the barriers that cause systemic poverty are addressed, Ontario can never truly be an accessible province. Persons receiving disability benefits in Ontario can not truly have access to sufficient, healthy and secure food; nor adequate and safe housing.
To better understand how being on disability benefits in Ontario can affects access to food and shelter, see the snapshot below:
- A single recipient of ODSP can receive up to a maximum of $1,151 each month.
- The benefit and asset limits related to ODSP have steadily declined over the past two decades when measured against inflation.
- In 2014, the average expenditure for shelter in Ontario was $1,617 per month, and the average expenditure for food was $675 per month.
- ODSP was cut by 21% in 1995 and rates were frozen until 2003. While there have been marginal increases, these have not kept pace with rising food or housing costs – ODSP would require a 25% increase in the rate a single person receives to be worth what it was in 1994.
- In Toronto, the average length of time people with disabilities frequent food banks has increased since 2008, to an average of three years.
- 51% of Toronto-area food bank users have a disability.
- 19% of food bank users who frequented a food bank in the last six months or less reported disability as their main reason for doing so.
- More than twice the number of adults with developmental disabilities lived in the poorest neighbourhoods than in the wealthiest neighbourhoods 
2. Because the precedent has already been set
- There is no limit on payments made from a recipient’s Registered Disability Savings Plan (“RDSP”) – see section 43(1)15.6 of the Regulation. The Ministry of Community and Social Services made a conscious decision in 2008 to allow recipients to access unlimited funds from their RDSPs in order to enhance their quality of life. Voluntary gifts and payments from family members, friends and trusts would serve substantially the same purpose; the difference being that RDSP payments cannot typically be accessed until much later in the person’s life, whereas payments from supporters and trusts can be accessed at any time.
- On November 5, 2015, the Government of British Columbia announced an increase to the asset limit from $5,000 to $100,000 ($200,000 for a couple) and completely removed the limit on voluntary gifts and payments. Asset limits of $100,000 were established in Alberta several years ago.
3. To legitimize the contribution of families
- Families are already subsidizing a tremendous amount of services and supports for their disabled family members, including those on ODSP. A majority of persons with intellectual disabilities in Canada reside either in a family home with parents (38% compared with 18% of the general population) or with family members (6% compared with 4% of the general population).
- Many people are under the assumption that support programs like ODSP provide for all a person’s immediate needs, but this is not the case. ODSP keeps people with disabilities living on or below the poverty line. Additionally, there are many basic needs not met through ODSP that are currently heavily subsidized by family members. These include:
– Safe and accessible housing;
– Adequate and healthy foods;
– Needed accessibility and adaptive devices;
– Transportation related needs and costs;
– Fee-for-service disability related supports;
– Clothing and recreation expenses etc.
4. To help protect persons receiving disability benefits once parents pass away
- The existing asset limits ignores the necessary and ongoing support families provide and ensures individuals with disabilities are poorer, more vulnerable, further marginalized once members of these important support systems pass away.
- Many people with disabilities currently live in homes that have been adapted to their needs. They live in neighbourhoods and communities where they are valued and belong. Strict asset limits mean that when loved ones pass on, they cannot leave behind a nest egg or any savings to ensure the person with the disability can continue to live in their homes and communities. This separates people from their natural supports systems and communities, strips away individual choice, and moves people towards more institutional and less autonomous living arrangements.
5. To promote autonomy and full citizenship
- ODSP keeps people with disabilities below the poverty line. For many being able to hold more assets does not equal more extravagant lifestyles but rather the ability to secure safe and accessible housing, avoid reliance on food banks, and purchase necessary disability supports and adaptive equipment. Just like their non-disabled peers, having the means to do these things prevents crisis, promotes greater autonomy, and decreases reliance on already strained public funds.
 Crawford, C. (2008) No Place Like Home: A Report on the Housing Needs of People with Intellectual Disabilities. Canadian Association for Community Living