Dear ODSP Caseworker
I have met only a few of you and yet I think about you often.
I wanted to write this letter to you to ask a favour.
Asking you for a favour at this time might seem a bit much. A bit presumptuous. You are dealing with SAMS, a new software system that seems riddled with issues. It has affected your clients. Some have been overpaid, some under, and, from what I hear, some not at all. Clients who rely solely on their ODSP income to survive, must not be taking this lightly. They must be calling you in a panic which must increase the stress of an already stressful job. You have logged overtime hours as you try to serve your stressed out clients and figure out a new, flawed software system.
On top of that, you seem to serve two masters. Or maybe I should call them two voices. One voice tells you to support the people on your caseload. These are people who not only have disabilities but also face serious financial hardship. You are responsible for making sure they receive the benefits they are entitled to receive. You are supposed to help them with employment support programs and refer them to other services that could benefit them.
And yet, the other master, the other voice tells you to constantly police your clients. Are they still eligible for the benefits they are receiving? Do they have more than the $5,000* in assets that they are allowed to have? And if they do you have more than the $5,000 in assets, you are the one who must reduce their benefits or revoke them all together.
Yes, there are cases where people are flagrantly abusing ODSP, but I believe that is the minority. There are many ODSP rules and they are complicated. Some may even contradict each other. It is very easy for a person on ODSP to break the rules without even knowing they have done something wrong – something that could render them ineligible for ODSP. Many of my clients who really rely on ODSP are so afraid of doing something that will kill their ODSP benefits. I ask them what specifically they have done or might do that they are worried about. Their answer, often times, is, “I don’t know.” Seems irrational, but it isn’t. Even those who have been on ODSP for years, struggle to understand the rules. Intelligent, educated people who by a series of events find themselves on ODSP and they are afraid to talk to their ODSP workers because they still find it difficult to understand what it is they are allowed and not allowed to do as a person on ODSP.
This must be hard for you. It must be hard to face a client who has unwittingly broken a key rule and you must now either garnish their ODSP or possibly revoke it all together. You and I both know that this has happened to people whose “transgressions” are not a reflection of improved financial health. Or if if they received money from another source, the money would not last long if they lost their ODSP. It is not as if they no longer need ODSP. But they have broken the rules none the less and it is your job to enforce. It must be hard to enforce punative measures on people with one hand, while you are trying to help them and advocate for them with the other.
You are overworked, overtired and under pressure. And yet here I am about to ask a favour of you.
I recently wrote an article for my blog, “Segregated Funds Saved My ODSP.” In many cases, people on ODSP are allowed to have up to $100,000 in segregated funds without jeopardizing their ODSP. Many people aren’t aware of this. It also seems many ODSP caseworkers are not aware of this. Many of my clients come to me because they have received an inheritance of less than $100,000. When they explain they have deposited the money into a segregated fund account, many have been told by their caseworker segregated funds are not an exempt asset. I now give my clients a copy of the ODSP policy directive explaining segregated funds are an exempt asset, before they meet with their ODSP caseworker.
I am not going to ask you to remember that segregated funds can be used as an exempt asset (although it would be nice). I am asking that you proceed with caution. ODSP policy directives are hundreds of pages and they are subject to change, not to mention complex. I can’t and I don’t expect you to remember and understand all of them. All I ask is that you take the time to refer to them when a client’s ODSP eligibility is on the line. ODSP is their livelihood; losing it, even for a short time can be devastating. So, before you make the decision to reduce or revoke a person’s eligibility, please take the time to read the relevant policy directives to make sure your decision is fair and true. Your client’s quality of life hangs in the balance…sometime precariously so. So, please take a moment to make sure a client’s situation is allowable or not before you take action.