COVID-19, Social Assistance

Getting COVID-19 Benefits while on OW or ODSP

Re-posted from ON THE RADAR, a publication of Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

When the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) ended, the Canadian government created 3 new Recovery Benefits and made changes to Employment Insurance (EI). There are special rules about these programs for people who are on Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

This month’s On the Radar looks at how COVID-19 benefits interact with OW and ODSP.

New benefits

To deal with the economic problems caused by COVID-19, the federal government created these new benefits:

These benefits are for people who miss work or lose their jobs because of COVID-19 and don’t qualify for EI. They pay $500 a week.

The government also made changes to EI. They lowered the amount of time that a person needs to qualify to 120 hours. And everyone now gets at least $500 a week.

Clawing back OW and ODSP money

Some people who get OW or ODSP will also qualify for EI or one of the Recovery Benefits. There’s a rule that says if someone on OW or ODSP qualifies for the Recovery Benefits or EI, they must apply to get them.

When someone on OW or ODSP gets money from another source, the government takes back some of their ODSP or OW money. This is often called a “clawback”.

People on OW and ODSP have to report their income every month. And both EI and the Recovery Benefits count as income.

Both EI and the Recovery Benefits are taken dollar for dollar from a person’s OW or ODSP payments. This means that for every dollar they get from EI or a Recovery Benefit, they lose one dollar from their OW or ODSP payments. So, while they’re getting money from these programs, most people will not get any money from OW or ODSP.

Special status

Usually, someone who gets EI or a Recovery Benefit would be removed from OW or ODSP because they have too much income. But instead, during COVID-19, OW or ODSP will give them a special status. This status means that they get $2.50 each month, which lets them:

  • stay on OW or ODSP, and
  • still get things like health benefits and discretionary benefits through OW or ODSP.

Paying back the money

Some people who got the new benefits at the same time as they got OW or ODSP are now being asked to pay OW or ODSP back. This is called an “overpayment”. They’ll get a letter that says they owe money.

Usually, OW and ODSP get money back by reducing a person’s future payments until they repay the full amount. OW and ODSP do not normally cancel someone’s debt.

But it’s often possible to make a deal about how much OW or ODSP takes each month, so that the person does not face “undue hardship”. People who want to do this need to talk to their caseworker.

If someone does not agree they owe money or with the amount OW or ODSP says they owe, they can ask for an internal review. This means that another OW or ODSP worker from the same office reviews the decision and decide whether or not to change it.

For more information about asking for an internal review, see:

If OW or ODSP does not change their decision, people can appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal. For more information about an appeal, see:

Getting legal help

For help related to a decision by OW or ODSP , please contact Kingston Community Legal Clinic.