Rules Make Poverty Worse When the Disabled Turn 65

“Poverty is so depressing,” Monianne Monianne says.

Jun 03, 2009 04:47 AM
Laurie Monsebraaten

Monianne Monianne thought it was a clerical error.

When the disabled photographer turned 65 and transferred from provincial disability support to federal Old Age Security, the monthly rent on her subsidized Toronto co-op more than doubled to $380 from $149 – even though her income barely changed.

But after calling dozens of federal and provincial officials, a legal aid clinic gave Monianne the shocking news. It wasn’t an error: It’s the law.

Since there is no federal disability income program and little co-ordination between federal and provincial social programs, Monianne – and likely thousands like her in social housing – are worse off in their senior years.

“The government thinks you stop being disabled at age 65, when your (provincial disability payment) stops,” she told a Toronto forum from her motorized scooter this week. “I was going to dance for you tonight but guess what – I’m still disabled.”

Monianne, 67, who has multiple sclerosis and receives about $13,500 yearly in federal seniors’ benefits, was among more than 150 area residents who packed the Metro Hall meeting to tell federal politicians they are tired of Ottawa and the provinces treating poverty like a political football. They want Ottawa to take a leadership role in ensuring governments work together to help the vulnerable escape poverty.

Their voices were added to more than 70 formal submissions to a parliamentary committee studying Ottawa’s role in fighting poverty, which wrapped up two days of meetings in Toronto yesterday.

“We are calling on the federal government to take effective action to help prevent and reduce poverty,” said Laurel Rothman of Campaign 2000, who took Monianne’s comments and others to the federal standing committee on human resources. “The federal government can and should be a leader with other governments. Either
we pay now or we pay later.”

Ottawa should immediately fix employment insurance so that more jobless receive benefits and training during the recession and boost federal child benefits to help struggling families, Rothman said.

It should develop a federal disability benefit and work with the provinces to create national affordable housing and child-care programs, she added.

The parliamentary committee, which heard from a wide range of groups including teachers, nurses, food banks, immigrant, seniors’ and women’s organizations, was formed about 18 months ago and began holding its first public hearings outside Ottawa this spring with meetings in Atlantic Canada last month.

Meetings scheduled for Western Canada were cancelled by the government due to cost concerns, but the committee hopes to hear from aboriginal and Inuit communities in the fall, said committee member Tony Martin (NDP-Sault Ste. Marie).

The committee expects to present its final report to the House of Commons in the fall.

Although Monianne has had to cut back on food and transportation since her rent jumped, she says she still manages to get out to museums and local parks and practise her love of photography.

But she worries about other disabled seniors living in social housing who haven’t had the benefit of successful careers. “Poverty is so depressing and isolating,” she said. “You can’t afford to do anything.”

For more about this week’s Metro Hall forum see:

Reproduced from