Playing poor

Playing poor

UPDATE, a day later: It turns out most people have mixed feelings on this issue. It’s good to direct attention to legislated poverty but nobody likes performative activism, poverty porn or political showboats. Also? A parent writes to remind me that benefit clawing should very much be part of this conversation. See their note to me, reproduced anonymously with their consent, at the bottom of this post. 

I went grocery shopping today. I knew you’d find that exciting. 

I went to Farm Boy and bought a box of granola bars (marked down), a bag of avocados, three yams, two containers of blackberries (marked down), a small wheel of double crème brie (marked down), a bottle of house brand reduced fat French dressing and some fancy-ass “artisanal” blackcurrant-olive crackers. I also returned three glass milk bottles and got $6 back for those. My total for just one leisurely stroll to the store to pick up a few things? $37.34 (after the $6 bottle return). Or, as it should be better known, nearly three quarters of the weekly food budget of someone who lives on ODSP. 

I’ll say that again. 

People who live with disabilities in Ontario get, at the utmost, $1,169 a month for *all* their needs. Five provincial members of the NDP have decided to try to live on that budget for two weeks to show how horrendously awful it is to try and make it on this little money — which, again, is the maximum support we give in this province. The MPPs figure that means a little over $47 a week on groceries. 

Now be very honest. How far do you think you could stretch that money at the grocery store even if you bought nothing but marked down cheap calories? 

I was once so broke that the only thing I could afford was the cheapest rice with mustard for taste. (I like mustard. Also? It’s cheap.) You won’t die if you eat nothing but rice and mustard. I’m here to prove that point. But you won’t be living either. There is much more to life than “not dying.”

I actually have mixed feelings about what the MPPs are doing because it seems like a self-serving stunt. Maybe that’s unfair, and I’d love to hear the opinion of people who have to live on ODSP all the time. I will absolutely defer to them on whether what the politicians are doing is a good thing or not. 

Here’s where I won’t bend, though. Those rates need to be — at the very least — doubled, and four years ago. It’s not OK to expect people to live on such paltry sums, especially not for periods longer than two weeks, and regardless of how much they may love rice.

Note from Ontario parent of adult child who receives ODSP, anonymized:

Something to add to the ODSP debate – income clawing. My child is on ODSP. They finished a two year college program in three years, and now are working part time. Each month, they file their income earnings report, and ODSP deducts what they earned from the following month’s payment. The first $200 of their ODSP are not touched, but the rest are clawed back, dollar for dollar.

People who are on ODSP but who want to work often feel like why bother working because ODSP penalizes them for it.

Then there are ODSP workers. As soon as someone does not file paperwork on time, ODSP terminates their benefits pending a review. Having helped my child navigate this for the past two years, ODSP treats those who have disabilities like criminals for making mistakes.