Monday, April 5, 2010

You will comply

My April financial-assistance payment (formerly, Welfare cheque) didn't get deposited in my bank account, proving once again that Ontario Works doesn't.

The pittance is supposed to be there for the start of every month. I called last week to let my worker know it wasn't. With Easter Weekend coming up, government services would be shut down. That meant three, possibly four, days without cash.

It took rather longer than the promised twenty-four hours for my call to be returned. Calls, actually, since my case, like everyone else's, is handled by two workers who, between them, are responsible for money, jobs, housing, and “compliance”.

Compliance is as scary as it sounds. It means absolute submission to the whims and dictates of Ontario Works. Non-compliance gets you totally cut off (if you're lucky) or charged with fraud (if you're not).

Ontario Works is on a hairtrigger with respect to non-compliance. Undotted i's or uncrossed t's can count as non-compliance. In any other context they'd be oversights, certainly not cause for damning anyone to hunger. But Ontario Works operates under the paranoid assumption that everyone on welfare is shiftless and untrustworthy. The slightest irregularity or oversight is viewed as proof the “member” (doesn't membership imply a club? special privileges?) is perpetuating fraud. This despite the following:

“The rate of fraud in the income tax system is approximately 20 times higher than the rate of fraud in the welfare system. A study conducted by a national auditing firm estimated fraud to be in the range of 3% of the Ontario welfare budget. A 2002 report from the Ontario Provincial Auditor noted: ‘of the 763,000 corporations with active accounts on the Ministry’s tax roll, 355,000 corporations—or one in two—did not file required returns.’”
Welfare: Myth and Reality (

I ended up talking to both my workers. One said the funds had been held up because I hadn't provided a required document. The other said the problem was unreported income.

The document in question was a copy of utility bill from my temporary landlord (Bill, whom I've mentioned in earlier posts), proving he's the owner of the house. The unreported income was a small amount of money I receive once a year from the Public Lending Rights Commission for my novel, The Schumann Proof.

I had, in fact, already supplied the utility bill—Ontario Works had misplaced it—but agreed to show up within an hour to replace it. As for The Public Lending Rights Commission, it had been incorrectly entered in my file as monthly, not yearly, income. Once we got that straightened out,I was told: “Your cheque has been cleared.”

Maybe I don't grasp the meaning of your cheque has been cleared. I learned English at school, not Newspeak. My understanding was that the money would go into my account. I have bills and loans to pay, not to mention that I'm getting tired of instant Ramen. Yet here we are, the Monday after Easter, and the hoped-for resurrection in my balance hasn't happened.

Ontario Works? My ass it does.

* * *

Update: It's now Tuesday, Apr. 6. I called my worker again. My April assistance, I was informed, will be in my account “before midnight” today. No apologies for the week-long delay.

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