Social Assistance Renewal is a phased, multi-year initiative resulting in significant changes to provincial and municipal roles for Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program. Once implemented, the focus for municipal delivery partners shifts from eligibility determination and benefit administration to the provision of stability supports (i.e. referrals to health and social services) and service navigation.
The Plan outlines three areas of change:
Employment Services Transformation is a key element of Social Assistance Renewal, initiated by the Province in September 2020. Toronto Employment and Social Services will retain responsibility for the provision of stability supports for residents in receipt of social assistance and will support their transition into employment services provided through Employment Ontario.
Staff will report back in 2023 on:
Residents applying for assistance continue to have the choice of which application channel best suits their needs and many will benefit from a simpler, more user-friendly online system, with a streamlined first payment process.
The Province plans to introduce a new funding formula as part of the full implementation of Social Assistance Renewal. This new formula will not be known prior to 2023. Employment Services Transformation is not expected to be implemented in Toronto until late 2023 or early 2024. In the interim, social assistance recipients residing in Toronto are supported through existing processes and programs.
The procurement process for Employment Service System Manager in Toronto will include a pre-requisite qualifying process for organizations, followed by a formal Call for Proposals for organizations that qualified. The Province is expected to engage key Toronto area stakeholders in fall 2022. The qualifying phase is slated for late 2022/early 2023 with the Call for Proposals expected in mid-2023.
The Province is developing a new funding model for Ontario Works in consultation with municipalities. The Province confirmed that a portion of the funding currently provided to the City of Toronto will be transferred to the new employment services system. It is expected that the City of Toronto will continue to receive funding to support Toronto Employment and Social Services’ mandate of providing life stabilization supports. Additional funding impacts and details are pending.
In the fall of 2020, Centralized Intake (CI) was launched in a phased approach through prototype sites established across Ontario; Toronto’s prototype was launched on February 28, 2022. In May 2022, staff provided a report to Council (EC31.6) on Toronto’s Centralized Intake prototype.
Prior to CI, residents applied via 3 City-managed channels: in-person, online and phone. CI saw the transfer of online Ontario Works application administration from the City to the Province. It is envisioned that online and phone applications will be managed by the Province, while in-person will be the responsibility of municipalities.
Toronto’s Application and Support Centre is responsible for processing all Ontario Works phone applications; the transition of the City’s phone channel for Ontario Works applications will be determined by Q4 2022.
Since January 2021, the Province has established 15 Employment Ontario Service Areas and has been piloting an Employment Service System Manager for each area:
As part of Employment Services Transformation, City staff have initiated dedicated Indigenous engagement sessions which will inform the final recommendations to Council in 2023.
Ontario Works rates have not been indexed to inflation and don’t account for the rising cost of living in Toronto. The last Ontario Works rate increase was 1.5 per cent in October 2018. In May 2021, Council recommended that the Province implement a rate structure with an evidence-based approach to annual social assistance rate increases.
In 2021, identity based data analysis revealed that Toronto’s Ontario Works caseload is comprised of a disproportionate number of racialized clients. For example, one quarter of those surveyed identified as Black compared to 9 per cent of the population of Toronto. Given that Indigenous, Black and equity-deserving individuals are overrepresented among Ontario Works clients in Toronto, the equity impact of the new service system model on residents will be important to consider.
Staff are engaging a range of stakeholders on elements of the new Employment Services delivery model including its ability to address intersecting systemic barriers to employment. This engagement will inform recommendations to Council in 2023.
General Manager, Toronto Employment and Social Services