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Ontario’s response to people with developmental disabilities “a cruel hoax”

TORONTO – The Ontario government’s announcement that waitlists are eliminated for people with developmental disabilities receiving services at home obscures a deeper problem, according to the union that represents about 12,000 developmental service workers.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said in reality developmental services in Ontario are in a crisis of underfunding.

“The government has played a shell game, moving 6,000 adults with disabilities off that wait list to its newer direct-funding ‘Passport’ program,” he said. “That program is no long-term solution to individuals who need care and their families. Instead it forces them to search their communities for someone they can hire to provide the care they need.”

The idea of direct funding to families has a certain appeal, he said. “The idea is they are the ones who know best what supports are required. But do they have the resources to acquire those supports? With a maximum grant of $35,000 how can they duplicate the programming offered by the nearly 400 non-profit charitable agencies around the province and the 18,000 staff members they have working for them?”

Thomas said a quick $35,000 may look like a godsend to a stressed-out family with a member on a long waiting list, but when it comes to actually buying the needed services, it won’t stretch much beyond basic respite care. The temptation will be to pay care workers as little as possible to make the dollars go further, and that means hiring people with few qualifications and less experience to care for vulnerable people.

“It is a cruel hoax to tout this as a huge success, when in fact it is a form of privatization. The government is handing dollars to people with disabilities and their families and telling them to go it alone, rather than funding an equitable system of support for those with developmental needs.

“The ‘Passport’ program lets agencies – and for profit organizations – skim off 10 per cent of the funding for administration, opening the door to private organizations to make money, both off people with disabilities and off the people who support them,” he said.

Patti Markland, chair of the union’s Developmental Services Sector, said the government’s own website tells people how to hire a support worker from Craig’s List or Kijiji.

 “Is that going to lead to trained and qualified people doing the work? And on top of that, people have to struggle through the whole Employment Standards Act to make sure they are obeying the law, not to mention dealing with deductions for the Canada Revenue Agency. It’s asking a lot of people who are already overburdened,” she said.

“People with developmental disabilities are already treated as second-class citizens in this province. They should not be opened up for further exploitation by people operating on the profit motive,” Thomas said.