Feb. 21 Update: What we know and what we don’t about the new Ontario Autism Program.

There’s only 39 days until the new program goes into effect, and somehow we know even less than we did yesterday thanks to the government throwing us a curveball. Here’s a rundown of what we know and what we don’t about how the new program will work and what the transition will look like.

New Program

What we know

  • The maximum funding is $20,000/yr for kids aged 2–5 (4 years) and $5,000 for kids 6–17 (12 years).

What we don’t know

  • What services and supports families will be able to purchase. We are told this will be released sometime in April 2019, which is after the new program is live!
  • How families pay for services (do they pay out of pocket, then submit receipts? Does the money go direct to providers?)
  • What happens the first year a child is diagnosed. If a child is diagnosed at age 3.5, do they have to wait until their next birthday to receive funding? Do they get the full amount for a 3-year-old? Is the funding pro-rated? (So they’d receive half the amount they would for a full year?)
  • Can families roll-over unused budget into following years, or is it “use it or lose it”?

What we know

  • Almost nothing. We thought we knew when the clawbacks start (at an income level of $55,000/yr), but yesterday in Question Period, it was indicated that families earning $55,000/yr would not receive the full amount. Details here, along with a best guess on how the funding might work. (Again, noting that the cost of ABA is around $80,000/yr and that $55,000/yr is less than some dual-earner minimum-wage families earn).
  • We know the government is defining income, for means-testing purposes, as Line 236 on your tax return (which is standard for these types of programs), which is income after Line 207 through 235 deductions (including child care expenses and RSP contributions) have been applied. So this is “pre-tax” income, but net of some deductions.

What we don’t know

  • Anything about means-testing, including the formula.
  • We also still don’t know if the funding works differently for single-earner vs. dual-earner families, or if the program has some built in “marriage penalty”. (Or put differently, will this program pay families to get divorced).

Outside analysts (like yours truly) would like to be able to estimate how much the government will be spending on this new program. In order to do that, we need to know how the means-testing works. There’s also a number of other important pieces of information.

What we don’t know

  • Forecasted utilization rates for spending.
  • How many kids are projected to use the program, along with their ages.

Based on the little information we have, it looks like the government is cutting yearly funding in the range of $50–100M , but honestly, who knows? We would like the government to tell taxpayers and parents what this new program costs, and whether it is less than what the old program would have cost.

What we know

  • Between fiscal years 2011–12 and 2015–16, the government spent $180–190M each year. (Data here).
  • In fiscal year 2016–17 they spent $254,633,529
  • In fiscal year 2017–18 they spent $317,801,400

What we don’t know

  • What the government will spend in fiscal year 2018–19 (Which ends Mar. 31, 2019)
  • What the government would have spent in fiscal years 2019–20, 2020–21 and 2021–22 had there been no changes to the program.
  • What the government will spend in fiscal years 2019–20, 2020–21 and 2021–22 under this new program.

Transition from Old Program to New One

Here’s what we know and what we don’t about the transition from the old program to the new one.

What we know

  • The transition starts April 1, 2019
  • The transition is expected to last 18 months (that is, until Sept. 30, 2020)

What we don’t know

  • For children currently receiving funding, how much funding will they receive upon renewal? Will it be the existing amount? The amount from the new funding formula? Something else? Nothing?
  • For children currently on the waiting list, how long will it take them to receive funding? What does the process look like? Will they all have to wait until October 1, 2020?
  • For children diagnosed during this period, will they receive their funding before October 1, 2020? On Oct. 1? Or will they have to wait a full 18 months? (So a child diagnosed on February 20, 2020 would need to wait until August 20, 2021)
  • Will the government continue to spend the same amount of money on services during this period? Or will they be saving money by reducing funding to kids currently receiving treatment while not extending new funding to kids on the waiting list? (as asked earlier)

Hope you find this helpful! I will be creating a new post each day with updates.

Senior Director, Smart Prosperity. Assistant Prof, Ivey Business School. Exhausted but happy Dad of 2 wonderful kids with autism. I used to do other stuff.