ODSP stands for Ontario Disability Support Program. According to ODSP’s website, “The Ontario Disability Support Program Income Support helps people with disabilities who are in financial need pay for living expenses, like food and housing.” As someone with a disability, I have been working since December 2015 to get on ODSP. It has been quite the journey, and I am beginning to see it is far from over.
ODSP is a long process that includes reporting on one’s financial situation, and medical situation. As a result, I had to get on Ontario Works (OW), which is social assistance, because it ensured I would get financial assistance much faster. That I was approved for and started receiving assistance right after I was discharged from the hospital, and got an official BPD diagnosis, in January of 2016. That barely covered my rent, paid my debts, and covered my means of living. But it was better than nothing, and helped my mom in the limbo between diagnosis and beginning the road to recovery.
Getting on ODSP was one of my major prayer requests to God: The maximum one could receive for ODSP 161% increase over what I receive from OW. It would make me more financially stable, and I could have more freedom to do fun things on top of paying to stay alive. I had to get on ODSP so I could focus on getting better, and learn to control my BPD. After my first run with BPD therapy in February and March, I was doing well with learning the skills but I still needed guidance. Some ways, I grasped the skills, but in other ways I relapsed.
I was not ready to walk into the real world. Yet, my therapists warned me that ODSP probably wouldn’t get approved the first time around. That scared me: I knew I wasn’t ready to return to work. If I didn’t get on ODSP, I would have to return to work and/or continue my education towards a PhD prematurely. But it was a possibility so I lifted up prayers to God about two things: Get on ODSP, and get into the Peel Youth Village (PYV).
PYV is transitional housing in the place I am in the GTA. It teaches people, like me, how to live life and move away from homelessness. This included mental health work: They did things like goal setting, overcoming depression, budgeting, and connect me to more BPD therapy. The prayer I would move in here happened first: I moved in . It was a good day, and my recovering road was starting.
Then a month later my second prayer was answered: I made it onto ODSP. Because my official application was sent in on May 1, 2017 I was to receive back payments for 302% of what my monthly payments would be from May 1-July 31, 2016, 100% for August, and 100% for September minus 34% for rent. I cheered and danced for joy when I received the letter. I found financial stability! Surely things could only look up from here, yes?
Not so fast. For clarification of tale, I only knew I was getting two cheques from ODSP: Back payments, and the one for September. The third cheque was not learned about until payday.
First, they take away 41% from me to pay back OW for the money OW gave me between May and July. So instead of 100%, I received 41% by check in the mail last Saturday. When I read it, I did not understand it. Why pay back OW for money they gave me? After all, I was not working and ODSP wasn’t approved. I needed that OW/mo. I needed it.
But my trustee explained that often one branch of the Ministry of Social Services, which is what ODSP and OW fall under, will often get the other branch to pay them back so they do not have to wait on the recipients to get the money. Therefore, I shrugged it off and smiled that it was still much more financially stable than OW for a whole month. Then we call them to find out if there is a cheque coming for me, and how much.
On Wednesday, my trustee and I called them to find out about money I would be receiving so we could better budget my month: It turns out 3 cheques are for me! I received the first already, and I needed to go to the ODSP office in Mississauga to pick up the other two. On Wednesday I ran there as fast as the busses would allow. When I got there, I only received one cheque: The other was being held by my case worker for some reason. I did not find out because it was a busy day for them on Wednesday because it was cheque day, and people had to come pick them up due to Canada’s postal system being on the brink of going on strike.
I get the one cheque and head back to my trustee’s office. I open it up and we see that there isn’t $1100 for me. Instead the total was only 77% of what I was supposed to give, 44% of which got taken from me by Ontario Works to pay for the rent here at PYV. 124% more than Ontario Works? That’s not the money was entitled to according to the letter I received informing me I was approved for ODSP! I don’t get it and my trustee doesn’t get it either. Furthermore, we cannot understand why one person on the phone says three cheques are ready for me, and then my case worker says I only get two.
Is this the end of the rough seas I find myself in as I transition from OW to ODSP? Nope- I receive a letter tonight saying I owe OW 21% back in overpayments. OW doesn’t say why I have an overpayment, just that I have it and I owe them it! I believe that is four ways the Ministry of Community and Social Services has taken money from me, instead of bring the ministry designed to help people whose disability requires financial support.
Unfortunately, instead of what I was entitled to, I have received 55% of it. Stealing from the poor to give to the rich- Didn’t know that’s what it means for my prayers to be answered. Instead of resting that I now have more financial stability, I am compelled to stand up underneath a trial. A trial I am not prepared for, never mind know how to best step forward beyond the financial plan my trustee and I made based on the plan I was receiving 100% of what I was owed for the month of September.
So I am turning to the realm of the internet: What should I do? My trustee will surely have answers, but I would like to have some information at my disposal. Thankfully, I was able to find some while composing this article!
The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has an article on how to handle overpayments. Basically, if I believe it’s in error I should fight it. Furthermore, I should receive in writing documented proof of the overpayment:
Generally, they take 5% off of your cheque until the overpayment is paid off. But when you don’t have a lot of money, 5% is a lot of money. There are ways of getting the amount they take off each month reduced. If you show that there is an undue hardship, you can get how much they take of to 2% or sometimes you can get collection temporarily waived. However, they have to have the paperwork for the overpayment and be able to tell you what it is from. Always ask to see proof of the overpayment, if they can’t show you, you don’t have to pay.
5% off my is a lot. For example, if the cheque I received was $850, 5%is $42.50. That’s one week’s worth of groceries gone to repay something! Good thing I will hopefully be able to appeal it, and demand documentation proving it’s an actual overpayment.
In the meantime, I suppose I should prepare for a battle: It seems with each answered prayer, these days, a new trial is glued to it. I know the Christian life is one of trial and growth through hardship, but those are cliché answers to the last 2-3 years of trial after trial after trial. Why must it be constant trial after trial after trial? Has God decided I do not get rest until I’m dead, or Christ’s return?
Shouldn’t trials come to an end eventually, even if it is a short time? Or is that just a blessing for a very select few?