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Ontarians with disabilities to benefit from exemption limit change

A number of recent changes that increase the exemption limits for those who receive funding from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) will mean more money for Ontarians with disabilities and represent a welcome change to the province's social assistance programs, Ottawa disabilities and estate planning lawyer Kenneth Pope writes in The Lawyer’s Daily.

As Pope, principal of Kenneth C. Pope Law explains, the new provisions — some of which took effect in August, while others began in September — are the first substantial changes in nearly 20 years. Under the new rules, asset and exempt income limits will be raised, while pain and suffering awards, as well as those for loss of care and companionship, will be exempt.

“Allowed exempt income will increase from $6,000 over a 12-month period to $10,000. Gifts from family and friends that are used to pay first and last months’ rent, and buy a vehicle or a home will no longer be treated as income and, as such, will not be deducted from the recipient’s monthly benefit entitlement,” writes Pope.

As of August, he says, the pain and suffering exemption no longer has a cap of $100,000, allowing the recipient to spend the money awarded for pain and suffering however they see fit, with no restriction and no deductions from their monthly benefits. This, says Pope, will apply to both lump-sum settlements and structured settlement payments.

For motor-vehicle injuries, the Statutory Accident Benefits (SAB) component will not be exempt.

The asset test, writes Pope, came into effect Sept. 1, 2017, increasing asset limits from $5,000 for a single person to $40,000. For a couple on ODSP, the limit has risen from $7,500 to $50,000.

“This means that even someone with some savings would qualify for ODSP, and would not need to deplete their assets or put them into an exempt asset such as an RDSP before applying for ODSP benefits,” he writes.

These changes, Pope says, will allow low-income households who need social assistance to keep a nest egg for unforeseen expenses and allow family members or friends to help out a loved one financially without an adverse impact on the recipient’s income support.

Monthly benefits also went up in September, and although many people will still be living below the poverty line in spite of these boosts, Pope says the increases are more significant than in previous years.

“It is a first step, and the hope is that we will see more in the years to come,” he says.

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