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LETTER: Ontario failing people with developmental disabilities

'Community Living Guelph Wellington is forecasting a $3 million operating deficit this year, and has experienced deficits for the past five years'

GuelphToday received the following letter to the editor from Cindy Kinnon, Executive Director, Community Living Guelph Wellington, and Janet Kaufman, Board Chair, Community Living Guelph Wellington.

Developmental service providers help the most vulnerable members of our communities.

People with developmental disabilities are a vital part of our community fabric. They live in your neighbourhoods. They go to the same grocery stores, libraries and coffee shops as you. They often enjoy many of the same things you enjoy in your community and contribute to it in a meaningful way.

What you may not know is that behind their experiences, there’s often someone there offering support. And that support can take many forms. Sometimes that support looks like a person, standing alongside and providing assistance with navigating everyday life. Sometimes it’s a little more discreet, supporting the person to organize their day or week. And sometimes, it’s entirely behind the scenes, helping the person navigate the ever-complex social support system in Ontario.

At Community Living Guelph Wellington, we show up in every facet of life for people with developmental disabilities. We provide support. Period. And for the more than 600 people and families who receive our services, and the more than 500 employees who deliver these supports, we are faced with an unethical and immoral crisis.

The Government of Ontario is failing people with developmental disabilities and their families.

This situation has been in the making for many years. Developmental service providers receive a subsidy from the provincial government, through the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, expected to cover the costs of operating the community supports that residents of Ontario need.

For the last 30 years, the government has underfunded this subsidy.

In that time, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) jumped by almost 60% cumulatively. But through those 30 years, the government has only provided a 4% increase to base funding for the developmental service sector, while expecting service providers to deal with a CPI that has cut buying power in half. A far cry from the cost of living and inflation.

What was your household income 30 years ago? Could you live on that now?

In Ontario’s Economic and Fiscal Outlook for this Fall, the government projects that CPI Inflation will be 3.7 in 2023, 2.5 in 2024, 2.1 in 2025 and 2.0 in 2026.

Yet, in Ontario’s Fiscal Plan, under Base Programs – Children, Community and Social Services, which is the Ministry that funds developmental service providers, the government has earmarked a 2.5% increase in funding in 2024-25, but a 0% increase in 2025-26. We need annual increases in order to deliver the support that people deserve. Funding pays for everyday living essentials like food, utilities, and transportation, as well as the professionals and spaces providing these services.

It is in the government’s plan to continue underfunding.

This is unacceptable when our community is in dire need of support. The government has been made aware of our fiscal deficit - and the impact that underfunding has taken on our sector as a whole. There is talk, but no action and for our community members and families that rely on our services, this is unacceptable. We need funding support, and we need it now.

For service providers like Community Living Guelph Wellington, who have provided services for more than 70 years, we’ve experienced this impossible math. We continue to do our part, finding efficiencies to deliver the best value and support for public dollars.

Community Living Guelph Wellington is forecasting a $3 million operating deficit this year, and has experienced deficits for the past 5 years. To keep supports available, we have had to temporarily reduce some services, lay off a number of hardworking and dedicated employees, dip into our reserves and fundraised dollars, and still, we face a hefty deficit.

These cuts are not sustainable.

Other sectors, like health and education, receive regular funding increases. Without regular funding increases in Developmental Services, the government is signaling: cut everything you can to make ends meet. End anything that goes beyond the bare bones of supporting a person with a developmental disability. That didn’t solve your budget crisis? Serve fewer people and cut your targets. And when that still hasn’t solved the problem? Cut service hours.

What the government fails to recognize is that service providers cannot cut an hour out of the day for people who rely on us for 24/7 support.

The government fails to consider what will happen if it continues to underfund this sector. Developmental service providers are no longer able to make ends meet. Services are beginning to close. People with disabilities, your neighbours, go without.

If this community goes without a place to live, they are most likely to end up in our healthcare system. They will either take up a long-term care bed, impacting seniors who are in desperate need of a safe place to live as they age, or in our hospitals, taking up emergency care beds that are needed for people who are acutely ill. They could end up in our prisons, becoming a mark on our judicial system for improperly jailing a portion of our population. Or they could end up homeless. And in all of these scenarios, the issue of underfunding developmental services doesn’t change. The issue just moves to another sector, putting another sector at risk of failing.

We are not just calling on MCCSS for support, we are respectfully demanding it. Without appropriate and sustainable funding, we will no longer be able to serve the people who rely on our services to ensure their family is able to live a happy and full life, with a level of community support they have grown accustomed to and deserve.

We stand alongside Community Living Ontario and support their call to the Government of Ontario to immediately increase developmental services base funding by 5%. This increase represents $145 million that would support service providers, the Passport program, and Special Services at Home. These measures will not only work to offset historical underfunding of the sector to reduce the risk of harm among people with developmental disabilities, but also help to address the human resources crisis being faced across the sector.

We also urge our government to make a commitment to annual increases to reflect inflation. Education and health sectors receive annual increases in operating funds to address financial needs caused by inflation and population growth. Developmental Services should be no different.

What we need now, more than anything, is appropriate and sustainable funding from the MCCSS. We also need public support, call your MPP, write letters, be an advocate, and show up for this community.

CLGW is an essential part of the Guelph Wellington community fabric. While we must remain optimistic, the glimmer of hope is diminishing, unless tangible action is taken now. CLGW must attain the necessary funding it needs to continue to restore and continue the reliable support our CLGW community expects and deserves. We must continue to bring our mission to life to support people with developmental disabilities to live their best life. We must continue to show up for our neighbours and our community.

Addressing these challenges is a shared responsibility of organizations, like CLGW, and the government. So far, organizations have had to do all of the heavy lifting.

Cindy Kinnon, Executive Director, Community Living Guelph Wellington, and Janet Kaufman, Board Chair, Community Living Guelph Wellington