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Ontario social service funding falls short: watchdog

The provincial waitlist for supportive housing for developmentally disabled adults has ballooned and the Ontario Autism Program funding can’t meet its target, according to the FAO

According to a new report by the province's Financial Accountability Office, the Ford government has not allocated enough funding to cover the cost of social services in Ontario.

The findings mean the Ontario government will have to choose between increasing funding beyond its plan or cutting services in the coming years.

The FAO report also includes bleak numbers for provincial waitlists for key services. 

Record number of developmentally disabled adults waiting for housing

The FAO report revealed that the number of Ontarians with developmental disabilities waiting for supportive housing has grown by 10,000 since the Ford government took office.


The number of Ontarians served by the Developmental Services Supportive Living program, and those waitlisted by fiscal year. FAO

Premier Doug Ford defended his government’s record on that Wednesday, blaming the increasing waitlist on the province’s growing population.

“We put more money into that than any other government in the history of Ontario,” Ford said in response to a question from The Trillium.

“We’re investing in that — an unprecedented amount of money — and our goal is always to make sure we house as many people as possible.”

However, the FAO found that the number of adults with disabilities served by the supportive housing program has decreased since Ford took power, even as funding has increased. There were 18,822 in the program in 2017-18 and 17,856 in 2023-24. In that time, the waitlist ballooned by 10,000 people to 28,128.

Liberal house leader John Fraser said he was taken aback by the figure and he admitted that governments have struggled with the issue for decades. When politicians hear stories from Ontarians about what the lack of supportive housing means for their families, it keeps them up at night, he added.

“When you have an 80-year-old woman who's widowed, and she's got a son or daughter at home who's 60, and she's worried about what's gonna happen them when (she’s) not here — we have to do better,” he said. “We have to do better.” 

NDP Leader Marit Stiles said her party’s housing plan would see the province building more supportive housing. 

“We can't rely on the market to build that,” she said.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the shortage is due to the government’s underfunding of service agencies that provide supportive housing.

Autism funding not enough to meet target

The report also found that the ministry’s funding for core services for children with autism can cover less than 20 per cent of the over 70,000 children registered in the Ontario Autism Program (OAP).

While the government increased funding for the OAP to $723 million in 2024-25, the FAO estimated that this would just "provide 12,629 children and youth with full annual funding for core clinical services” and wouldn't be enough to fund the 20,000 children the government had aimed to enrol in core services by March 2024. 

The Ford government announced in its March budget that it was increasing funding from a baseline $600 million to $723 million for the year, and that this funding would "support the government’s commitment to enrol 20,000 children and youth in core clinical services." 

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy committed Wednesday to making that increase permanent.

The FAO’s estimates were based on the average annual funding allocation of $34,000 per child for the 2023-24 year. 

Core clinical services are a cornerstone of the OAP and include applied behaviour analysis, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, mental health services and technology, such as therapy equipment. Funding for core services ranges from $6,600 to $65,000 depending on a child's age and their level of need. 

“This is shocking. This is beyond disappointing. This is infuriating,” said Alina Cameron, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition (OAC) advocacy group. “They’re creating a system where basically one in seven kids is … potentially getting the care they need, because it doesn't guarantee you have anywhere to spend it. This is not what we were led to believe.”

Total spending for the program during the last fiscal year totalled around $691 million, with around $307 million going towards core services, $173 million on other programs like urgent response programs or entry-to-school services and $211 million on other services like interim one-time funding, childhood budgets, behaviour plans.

Using the FAO’s estimated funding allocation per child, $680 million would be needed to fund 20,000 children — the number of children the government wanted to enrol, and has enroled, by the end of March. But enrolment is just the first step, with registered families then having to go through a process to determine how much funding they should be allocated.

Another $255 million — which is how much the FAO estimated would be spent on other services with a $600 million annual budget — if added, would amount to $935 million. 

“I'm out of words to say how angry I am,” said Bruce McIntosh, former president of the OAC, adding that he’d like to see more of the funding allocated towards core services. He said for many children on the waitlist, “there's no way that the current model is going to get them into therapy anytime soon.”

Allocated funding to fall short

In its report, the FAO tallied up the projected costs of the government’s spending plans for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, which includes spending on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), as well as programs for adults and children with developmental disabilities and autism, and for children involved in the child welfare and youth justice systems.

The watchdog found that the government’s planned spending, according to the 2024 budget, would fall $3.7 billion short of what’s required to fund existing programs and announced commitments by 2026-27.

The FAO expects the cost of delivering those social programs to rise to $21.8 billion by 2026-27, but the province is planning to flatline spending at $20.1 billion, the FAO found.

However, according to the FAO, the government’s current commitments, even if fully funded, would see the level of service Ontarians receive deteriorate, including by increasing waitlists.

Keeping a status quo level of service — where Ontarians get the same level of social services even as the population increases and costs go up — would cost the government more than the $3.7 billion cited in the report, FAO Jeffery Novak said, but his office didn’t calculate that figure.

One reason is that OW rates — social assistance for unemployed Ontarians — have been frozen since 2018, and the FAO’s calculations assume that the freeze will continue. If it does, thanks to inflation, OW recipients will experience a 24 per cent real-dollar cut in their assistance rates from 2018 to 2028. 

ODSP rates, on the other hand, were bumped up 5 per cent and then tied to inflation. However, the FAO finds the rates will remain a little lower than they were when they were frozen in 2018 on a real-dollar basis.

Social Services Minister Michael Parsa avoided the media at Queen’s Park on Wednesday and his office did not respond to questions by publication time. However, his spokesperson issued a statement after this story was first published saying that the government will meet its target of 20,000 children enroled in core clinical services this year.

The statement said the FAO report is “not representative of actual government spending," so Parsa would not comment on the issues it raised.

However, the FAO gets its figures on current program spending and waitlists from the government, and its projections for future years are rooted in that data.

Editor's note: This story was updated with a statement from the minister's office released after it was initially published.

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