On April 21, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith announced additional support measures to help seniors and people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Premier Ford and Minister Smith were joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Minister of Long-Term Care Dr. Merrilee Fullerton.
Following the announcement, Premier Ford responded to questions from media regarding his plan for lifting restrictions in Ontario as the number of new COVID-19 cases begins to decline.
Funding and Services for Seniors and People with Disabilities
This afternoon, Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith announced expanded supports for vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier Ford emphasized that the Ontario government is doing everything in its power to ensure that seniors and members of other vulnerable groups continue to have access to necessary materials while isolating. As a result, the province is partnering with the Ontario Community Support Association (OCSA) to launch a new Ontario Community Support Program. This program, into which the government is investing $11 million, will help expand existing Meals on Wheels services to reach low-income seniors and people with disabilities and chronic medical conditions across Ontario. The program will also develop the capacity of community organizations to help deliver medication and other essentials.
In addition, this week the province will be delivering the first doubled Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) payments to low-income seniors. These doubled payments, first announced in Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, will support 194,000 seniors across the province and will continue for six months.
Premier Ford and Minister Smith also announced that the government is investing $40 million in the Residential Relief Fund to help community organizations with COVID-19-related costs such as purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) and enhanced staffing. The funding will assist developmental services, child welfare, victims shelters and organizations delivering social services to vulnerable First Nations individuals and families. The $40 million announced today is in addition to the $148 million already announced, which is being provided to municipal social services partners and Indigenous program administrators, to expand services offered during the pandemic.
Minister Smith added that the government is preparing a plan to take further action to support vulnerable populations in residential developmental services settings. The plan, which Minister Smith will update on more fully in the coming days, will focus on COVID-19 prevention, enhanced screening, infection control and addressing staffing challenges.
In response to questions about supports for families with children on the autism spectrum, Minister Smith explained that, where possible, the government has taken steps to move service delivery online for certain programs so that families can continue to access them. The government has delivered additional funding for families of children with special needs through the Support for Families initiative, through which parents are eligible to receive a one-time payment of $250 per child with special needs. Minister Smith also confirmed that Ontario will extend childhood budgets for children with autism by an additional six months.
Lifting Restrictions in Ontario
Following this afternoon’s announcement, Premier Ford responded to questions from media regarding his plan for lifting restrictions in Ontario and changes to the provincial health system following the pandemic.
Regarding Ontario’s health system, Premier Ford emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted cracks in all aspects of Ontario’s health care system. Premier Ford is looking to make improvements throughout the health care system, including long-term care and Ontario’s procurement programs.
In response to questions about Ontario’s plan to support small businesses when they are able to reopen, Premier Ford said that he would speak to Minister of Finance Rod Phillips about whether the government will be able to forgo deferred taxes for small businesses that may otherwise be unable to pay. He added that the Ontario government and the federal government are working together on support measures for small businesses concerned about leases.
When asked about the gradual easing of restrictions in British Columbia, Premier Ford said he has spoken to B.C. Premier John Horgan and urged Ontarians to be patient, as B.C. is approximately three weeks ahead of Ontario in its response to COVID-19. Ontario will soon release a framework for the cautious easing of restrictions, using benchmarks based on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. Although Premier Ford was unable to provide details on specific workplaces that will reopen first, he suggested that outdoor work and other workplaces where social distancing can be adhered to are likely to be among the first to reopen.