Redesigned Ontario autism program will cost at least $600M, minister says
Lisa Macleod, Ontario's Children, Community and Social Services Minister, talks with the media after Question Period at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Thursday, August 2, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, March 26, 2019 4:03PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 26, 2019 5:18PM EDT
TORONTO -- Ontario's redesigned autism program -- which will take into account needs-based services after outcry from parents -- will cost at least $600 million per year, the social services minister said Tuesday.
A new $321-million program announced last month by Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod sparked protests by parents, who said the fact that the funding wouldn't be based on individual need -- instead, dependent only on age and family income -- would mean many kids would be left without access to the levels of therapy they need.
After six weeks of sustained pressure from parents and advocates, MacLeod announced changes last week. Income testing is being eliminated, more services are being made eligible, such as speech and occupational therapy, and most significantly, MacLeod said she will explore how best to provide additional supports based on diagnosed needs.
The exact budget will be determined after MacLeod and her staff spend the next several months consulting with parents and other groups, but the minister gave the legislature a ballpark figure this week.
"Under the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, that (budget) will be over $600 million," MacLeod said Tuesday.
She was responding to a question from the former Liberal minister in charge of the autism program, who asked if it was appropriate that a recent fundraising email in MacLeod's name touted changes to the autism program while asking for donations to the Progressive Conservatives.
"The email in question was sent out by the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, and it was sent out because we're proud that we're going to be eliminating the wait-list for 23,000 children," MacLeod said.
MacLeod's comments came after she said Monday that the autism program could have "up to double" the current budget.
The minister had previously stood firmly by her original autism plan, saying she couldn't put more money toward it because it would mean taking funds away from other social services within her ministry, such as programs for domestic violence victims.
But she said when announcing the changes to the program last week that the premier had approved a larger budget.
The elimination of income testing for the program means that all kids under six diagnosed as on the spectrum will receive $20,000 and kids over six will receive $5,000. The plan as originally designed would only give those maximum amounts to families making under $55,000.
But advocates note that intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year, so they are keenly awaiting details of needs-based funding.
Ontario's financial accountability office agreed earlier this month to a request by a Liberal to investigate claims by the Progressive Conservative government about the size of the autism program budget.