Ontario toughens welfare diet rules

TORONTO – Extra cash for chronically ill welfare recipients to eat healthy will be harder to get starting April 1 under new rules designed to combat fraud and comply with an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruling — changes that are making some sick people nervous.

“We really do not want to disadvantage people who need the special diet allowance, people who are ill and who need that extra money to live with their illness or condition,” Rebecca MacKenzie, a spokesman for Community and Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur said.

“At the same time, fraud is unacceptable,” she said. “Fraud that happens hurts everyone else who is in the program for the correct reasons.”

As of April, recipients of the special diet allowance will all have to reapply for the program, consent to have their relevant medical records checked and have their applications signed by a doctor or registered nurse practitioner, nutritionist or midwife.

As well, there are changes to the rates people with different conditions would be paid, with some afflictions getting less money or delisted altogether.

Those changes were the result of the human rights case in which patients with conditions such as diabetes or obesity that did not qualify for the program sued.

The tribunal ruled in their favour so the province set up a panel of medical experts to recommend which conditions would qualify.

MacKenzie said while people with some conditions may qualify for less money, many will qualify for more.

But Edward Lantz is nervous.

The HIV-positive 60-year-old has been getting an extra $250 a month since 2007 so he can make sure he eats properly and his doctor has told him he could lose up to $200 of that.

“What happens to me if they take away that money and my health fails?” Lantz said.

“Why is it being cut? If you take money away from a person, then that’s definitely going to affect their overall health,” he said.

Diagnosed in 2004, Lantz takes a daily regimen of retrovirals but says since his diet was bolstered by the allowance, he’s been healthier.

Once a professional fundraiser, he’s now with the social justice advocacy group ACORN in Toronto — volunteer work he’s not sure he could perform without eating well.

“If I get ill and I have to go to the hospital, there’s more strain on the health care system,” he said. “For the life of me, I can’t understand why they’re not looking at this in the way they should.”

MacKenzie said anyone whose health has deteriorated can always go back to their doctor and get reassessed for the benefit.



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