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New weight rule hits PWAs

Ontario tightens up special diet allowance

John Corso isn’t able to work due to his AIDS diagnosis. So as part of the money he receives from the provincially run Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), Corso gets $240 per month as a special diet allowance, funds that are provided to low-income Ontarians who have special nutritional needs due to a medical condition.

But Corso fears that new regulations regarding the allowance will mean he will lose that money.

“Without that money, I will end up going to a food bank, which I have done in the past, but it’s not the kind of quality food I need to keep myself healthy,” says Corso. “I’m panicking, and my friends are panicking. It’s pretty depressing.”

A Nov 4 directive from the ODSP outlines a number of changes to how the allowance is paid. In addition to requiring a doctor’s confirmation that the person is eligible for the allowance, the size of the allowance for HIV/AIDS patients will be based upon weight loss as compared to a patient’s usual body weight.

For example, a patient who has lost two percent body weight would receive $75, whereas a patient who has lost over 10 percent would receive the full $240.

Sandra Pupatello, minister of Community And Social Services, says those who are already receiving the allowance will not be affected. She says the changes are meant to prevent abuse of the system by applicants. Even so, community activists have concerns.

“These changes were announced without adequate notice and without proper medical advisement,” says Rick Kennedy, executive director of the Ontario AIDS Network.

While the weight-loss guidelines take their cue from wasting syndrome — weight loss often seen in people with AIDS — some patients actually gain weight or suffer from a shifting of body and yet would still have specific dietary needs, says Lori Lucier, executive director of the AIDS Committee Of Toronto.

Lucier and Kennedy are also concerned about patient privacy.

“In the past, you did not have to disclose your HIV status to a government agency in order to receive this allowance,” says Kennedy. Now recepients must provide a doctor’s confirmation of need.

Pupatello says that she is reviewing the weight-loss requirement as part of what she calls “an ongoing process.”