The Ford government might as well “burn $321 million on the front lawn of Queen’s Park” because the money for its new autism program will not fix the problem, says New Democrat MPP Monique Taylor.
“Our children deserve better than this,” said Taylor, the party’s children and youth services critic.
Speaking at Queen’s Park Wednesday morning, Taylor (Hamilton Mountain) was flanked by parents who say the provincial government’s changes will be devastating for their famlies.
One, Stephanie Ridley, called it “a complete farce.”
Parents of autistic children were out in full force at the legislature on Wednesday to attend question period and pressure the government to rethink their autism overhaul.
On Tuesday, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said the new plan “is in the best interest for all children” and replaces an “unconscionable” system that left three out of four kids without service, languishing on waitlists.
“I couldn’t, in good conscience, look at a (wait list) of 23,000 children and allow them to sit there for years,” MacLeod told reporters. “… I believe this plan is in the best interest of all Ontarians — it’s fair, it’s equitable and, more importantly, it’s sustainable now and into the future.”
Under the changes, which come into effect April 1, the government has promised to clear the wait lists for diagnosis and therapy, and will introduce a childhood budget allowing families to choose the services they want.
Families will be eligible for up to $20,000 a year for each child under 6 — up to a lifetime maximum of $140,000. Children older than that can access up to $5,000 a year up to age 18, to a lifetime maximum of $55,000.
However, only families earning less than $55,000 in net income will qualify for the full funding amounts.
MacLeod has said the Ford government has increased spending on autism, up to $321 million from the Liberals’ $256 million.
Hamilton mother Nancy Silva-Khan, who has twin 7-year-old boys with severe autism, said they’ve thrived receiving behavioural therapy and worries what will happen come April.
Speaking at Queen’s Park, she said the new system “discriminates with caps based on age and income” and will not meet most family’s needs.
Silva-Khan said she will likely stay home with the boys and her family is trying to figure out how to afford their $120,000-a-year therapy bill.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy