Following Up on ODSP: Why No One Benefits From A Benefit Unit

I realized yesterday that a couple of important issues weren’t explained in my last blog entry.


If you missed me talking about Jan being forced back to work despite both of us being high risk during the pandemic, you should go back and check it out. Actually, it’s kind of essential to understanding this next part so you should probably read. Go ahead… I’ll wait.


All done? Good! The next bit gets a little convoluted so I’ll do my best to be concise.


Playing Hokey ODSPokey


before Jan left work and went on Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), she called our local Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) office.


My case worker wasn’t there but, wanting to make sure we wouldn’t get cut off for doing so, Jan talked to someone filling in. That person told us they would be treating it as income. The provincial government itself hadn’t given them any official directives at the time, so that’s how they were interpreting the benefit money in our area.


A few weeks later, a story broke about someone who had their ODSP suspended entirely because he went on CERB. With no official plan for how to handle this, the provincial government hastily made an announcement to stop any clawbacks as they assessed the situation.


Less than a week later, they reversed the decision and began treating CERB as income officially.




As I previously explained, it resulted in them  taking 50% of gross income instead of net income.


The last news article I linked to above detailed the provincial government’s planned at the time to reinvest the money for those not on CERB. This is of little use to us when what we receive after clawbacks isn’t enough to get by. More on that later though.


We have $1,800 of our CERB payment slashed in half off the top (the first $200 is exempt because of their own rules) but we were setting it aside for the income tax we’ll have to pay eventually. Then there’s the added complication of being in a benefit unit.


Because we’re married, it makes us a benefit unit. That means both our incomes are lumped together and 50% of that is removed from my ODSP payments every month. We also get a $100 work related benefit for any expenses incurred from an actual job. Since Jan is part of my benefit unit, she gets it too.


Sounds great, right? Well not so fast!


Doing The Math


So right off the bat we’re short $100 because Jan was off work and receiving CERB.


From there, the $2,000 she receives for being off work is treated as straight income and we need to set aside about $400 for income tax season to be safe. That 2,000 gets brought down to $700 essentially and then the rest comes from whatever ODSP pays for shelter and food that month. For July, we received about $950 so that leaves us about $1,550 to survive for the month.


Did I mention that our rent alone is above $1,000? We don’t even live in an area like Toronto where apartments are insanely expensive either.


ODSP’s Astonishing Disappearing Act


Not only is it extremely tight, they don’t even break things down to show where the number came from.


A few months ago, we received a statement that made it look like $700 in CERB payments would be exempt. Skip to July and they took off $900 instead. Without anything to verify that the numbers add up, how do you even call them out on it? It also makes budgeting impossible. 


Another huge complication is that CERB is issued a week into the month. This means it bleeds into the next while ODSP looks at income and provides the pension on a monthly basis. So we technically get $2,000 all at once in the monthly period, but a week of that four week lump sum is intended for the next month. We asked how to take this into consideration when filling out my monthly income report and never received a response from anyone.


I’m not surprised either: Case workers are slammed and oDSP offices are only open four hours Monday-to-Friday.)


Suck It Up Buttercup


If Jan had been risking her health and working, we would actually be ahead too.


As mentioned in my previous blog entry, those on ODSP and not receiving CERB were given extra income. Of course, you only received it upon asking your case worker about the extra funds. You know, the same ones nobody can get in contact with because of the reduced hours? It’s just way too hard to manage, creates tons of stress and has really impacted our mental health in the process.


In the end, there are several factors and nuances that many don’t see. That’s also part of what frustrates me so much. 

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2 thoughts on “Following Up on ODSP: Why No One Benefits From A Benefit Unit”

  1. How do you two keep happy in your marriage? This whole benefit unit stuff has nearly destroyed my marriage. I feel that I work for nothing, and I lose more money the more I go out, and having disabilities myself that make going out more expensive for me, make it even harder.

    • I feel like Jan would probably be better at answering this since she’s the one who works full-time here.

      I’ll mention it to her, but from my perspective, I think we do a lot together and don’t have a lot of income we consider as separate. With that being said though, I can definitely understand the resentment that builds up from being in a benefit unit: Jan has even told me before how it’s basically like I get the money she works for because of the system and how it’s BS. She’s working on some blog posts covering her perspective of the rules though, so stay tuned for that if she doesn’t get a chance to comment as well (midnight shifts make our schedules a bit scattered.)

      I don’t know if Jan being fully-abled makes it somewhat easier on us too, but it’s still hard financially. It’s not like ODSP keeps up with inflation either. Beyond that, prices also continue to rise due to the pandemic. We’re in one of Ontario’s more affordable areas, but the housing market here is starting to skyrocket too. It’s tough and the lack of rent control will just keep making these situations worse for the vulnerable.

      I’ll close by saying that benefit units are designed to discriminate against those who find someone they love and decide to marry. It’s an extremely shitty thing to do and only creates added stress on people who shouldn’t have to deal with it.


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