A new report on income security in Ontario is recommending that the provincial government expand the provision of essential health benefits to all low-income people and modernize income and asset rules to ensure people can save for the future, according to a new report by the income security reform working groups.

A substantial component of Ontario’s income security program, according to the report, is its two social assistance programs: the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works. The broader income security system includes a variety of programs, such as the Canada Pension Plan, employment insurance, child tax benefits, workplace safety and insurance, and veterans’ programs.

Read: Ontario to move ahead with basic income pilot

Among its recommendations, the report suggests the government make essential health benefits available to all low-income people, beginning with ensuring those in deepest poverty have access to the services they need.

In its release, the Ontario government noted the introduction of a pharamacare program for Ontarians aged 24 and under, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018, and make the provincial government the first payer for more than 4,400 drugs covered by the Ontario Drug Benefit plan.

However, the report also recommends the government expand new core health benefits for all low-income adults over the next 10 years, starting with the expansion of prescription drug coverage to adults aged 25 to 65. This would be followed by an expansion of the Healthy Smiles Ontario dental program to adults aged 18 to 65 and adding dentures as part of the benefit; designing and implementing a new vision and hearing benefit for low-income people and families; and expanding access to medical transportation benefits.

Read: The impact of Ontario’s public drug program changes on private plans

The report also recommends that the government modernize certain income and assets rules so people can maximize the income sources available to them and save for the future. They include:

  • Exempting as assets funds held in tax-free savings accounts and all forms of registered retirement savings plans so people don’t have to deplete resources meant for their senior years;
  • Initially exempting 25 per cent of Canada Pension Plan, disability, employment insurance and Workplace and Safety and Insurance Board payments from social assistance; and
  • Increasing the income exemption for those payments to the same level as the existing earnings exemption by 2022/23.

“Our government agrees with the need to reform the income security system to ensure people are treated with dignity and respect. We understand the importance of this work and the fundamental need for reform to social assistance programs,” said Helena Jaczek, minister of community and social services, in a press release.

“We need to get this right through careful planning to reform the system into one that is fair and supportive, and puts the person at the centre.”

The 10-year roadmap for income security reform, which was put together by three working groups, will be available online for feedback over the next 60 days. The government stated it’s also reviewing the report and will use it as a guide as it considers changes to the income security system in 2018.

Read: The impact of Ontario’s public drug program changes on private plans

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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