Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Democracy in Action

Here in Ontario, we're having a provincial election in October. Fun stuff.  The Liberal Party is currently in power in Ontario and in my riding. Tonight, I got a call from my Member of Parliament's office, inviting me to stay on the line and participate in a "virtual town hall meeting" with him.

Ah, the Wonders of Technology

It was really quite something. When I joined, there were apparently 2400 other people also participating on their phones. The Minister of the Environment dialed in to speak about energy issues. People were able to indicate by pressing a combination of keys on a touch tone phone that they wished to asked the  Member of Parliament a question, and he was answering peoples' questions live. I've never seen anything like it done.

I was emailing with a friend as I listened. I typed to her, "I'd like to grill him on disability supports, but he's not going to know anything about it." Send.

"Do it! Do it!" she sent back.

I considered it for a moment, as my MP talked about energy issues. Then I typed back, "Why not?", and pushed the buttons on my phone to indicate that I wanted to ask a question. I wanted to ask specifically about the funding freeze on two Ontario programs: Special Services at Home, and Passports.

Intellectual Disabilities: Special Services at Home

Special Services at Home (SSAH) is funding for families with a young person with intellectual disabilities that allows them to purchase respite services. They can use it to pay to send the young person to summer camp, or to hire a respite worker to take the young person for periodic overnights, or to pay for the young person to go to a respite house every few weekends. The money can also be used to implement a program where the young person can work toward personal development goals.  I always suggested that families apply for SSAH because even in families where the young person doesn't have intellectual disabilities, parents need a break from the kid and the kid needs a break from the parents!

When I first started assisting families to apply for SSAH, there was no waiting list. No one ever got a whole lot of money, but at that point everyone who applied was getting *some*. Around 2008, that changed. Now, not only do no new applicants get SSAH money, there is a waitlist of 7000 families.

Families without this money go into crisis. I've seen it happen.

And then there's Passports funding.

Intellectual Disabilities: Passports Funding

Passports (which has nothing to do with a actual "passport", but is rather used in the context of a "passport" to adult life) funding was intended for students with intellectual disabilities just leaving school. It was to be used to implement a plan for community engagement - if the young person had a list of 5 things that they wanted to do in the community after school ended, Passports money could be used to help fund it. Passports money could be used to pay for a wide variety of things, from a monthly bus pass and a digital camera so that a young person can join a photography club, to a one-to-one worker who will help a young person prepare for their goal of living independently.

Passports money still gets distributed to new applicants in small amounts, but there are over 4000 people on the waitlist. For families that suddenly find a young adult with intellectual disabilities at home full-time after having them at school for years, Passports money could be what alleviates a crisis situation.

Someone Else's Turn to Give a Hard Answer

It's hard to say to families, "We'll apply for SSAH and Passports, because the government needs to know that there's a real need for these things; but don't pin your hopes on them, because very few families get any funding anymore."  I imagine that it's even harder to be the family that has to hear that.

So, my question to my MP was going to be: "You keep talking about how we have to give the children and youth of Ontario a fighting chance. If the Liberals are re-elected, when will they decide to give the children and youth of Ontario with intellectual disabilities a fighting chance, and give their families some support, and lift the funding freeze on SSAH and Passports?"

Unfortunately, the town hall meeting ended before I got a chance to speak. But I got a chance to ask my question into an answering machine.

We'll see if I get a response. :P

Update:  My MP himself called yesterday morning to answer my question. He needed a bit of information on the programs in question, but was able to talk about them in the wider context of government cuts that have been made over the past couple of years. I didn't get the impression at all that he was trying to dodge my questions, and he was quite open about the fact that he didn't know the specifics of what I was talking about but was willing to look into it. I was quite impressed that he even called back, and with his answer, considering that I really wasn't expecting him to know much about it.

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