A delay in her Ontario student loan left her family eating mostly noodles. Now she wants an apology

اخبارالعرب 24-كندا:الجمعة 2 ديسمبر 2022 08:56 صباحاً Denise Daley says she and her family have been eating little but noodles due to a delay of more than three months in her Ontario student assistance payments.

Without the $36,000 she needs for tuition, supplies and living expenses, the widowed mother of two has been forced to rack up late bills, miss rent payments and wreck her credit rating by going thousands of dollars into debt — all because of a problem she says the province wouldn't acknowledge or explain to her.

"Every time I tried to do something, I'd just get shut down," Daley told CBC Toronto. 

The second-year student at Toronto's Kikkawa College said she called the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) at least once a day, never getting through before being disconnected. Daley's financial aid office, which she kept in frequent contact with, couldn't get more information.

"It was really defeating and depressing and awful," said Daley, who finally received the money in late November, more than three months after her school year began.

Students waiting nearly 4 months, NDP critic says

The province has told CBC News that OSAP delays affect only "a very small number" of the nearly quarter of a million post-secondary students who receive the payments. But Daley said three other students in her class alone were in the same boat until very recently. And the NDP's Colleges and Universities critic, Laura Mae Lindo, said she is hearing about others across the province.

"The big thing that we're hearing right now is that the wait times for OSAP to be decided have shifted from eight to 10 weeks to nearly four months," the MPP for Kitchener Centre told CBC Toronto.

MPP Laura Mae Lindo, the NDP's colleges and universities critic, says she's hearing of students waiting up to four months for OSAP payments. Lindo says some are dropping out because they can't wait that long. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

"And the government has just sort of said, 'Oh, now we just do this in 16 weeks,' but a four-month wait to receive your OSAP payment is a huge wait.... It's actually had some people decide to defer their entrance into the university. So that's a huge problem," Lindo added.

"A lot of students are just asking for transparency," she said. At the moment, too many students across the province are finding themselves in this situation and might have made different choices with work or courses if they knew the situation would be like this in advance, Lindo told CBC News.

She said acknowledging there is a problem in the system is essential, but it's something that's not happening right now and it's a source of frustration for many students.

Nowhere to call

Kara Wheeler, who is in her third year studying social work at Wilfrid Laurier University's campus in Brantford, is one of them. 

Wheeler applied for OSAP in mid-July. The OSAP portal, which indicated her estimated approval date, "kept changing and changing," she said. At one point, the site estimated she'd get her approval in November, four months after she applied.

The delay, which had already forced her make a late payment on her rent, began to worry her in the classroom.

"I'm there for 12 hours and I'm thinking, how am I going to eat?" Wheeler said.

Unable to find a way to contact OSAP, Wheeler reached out to her MPP,  Wayne Gates, who represents Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie. Gates intervened in her case.

Her OSAP payments got approved not long after, but still later than all previous years. She said an additional document she needs to file with her application is the same as previous years.

The experience left her frustrated that she had to take this step. 

"Why isn't there a phone number that I can call? Why is there no point of contact to listen to either a question or concern?" she said.

Ministry acknowledges some delays

The Minister for Colleges and Universities, Jill Dunlop, who previously denied a backlog, did not accept CBC Toronto's request for a three-minute interview this week.

However, the minister's press secretary, Liz Tumoi, said "there are some delays for a very small number of students with complex reviews." She told CBC Toronto the delays are "neither broad in scope or unusual."

When asked if the minister believes improvements should be made to service delivery and communication with OSAP clients, given some of the issues, the ministry did not directly address the question, but noted that students should speak to their schools' financial aid offices or consult the OSAP website.

Ontario Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop denied an interview request from CBC Toronto but her ministry now acknowledges there are some delays for a very small number of students. (Steve Russell/The Canadian Press)

Tuomi said the ministry is recommending that students apply for OSAP approximately three months before the start of their study period. Several financial aid offices at schools across the province listed shorter periods in recommended timelines available to students applying this year.

A number of students who found themselves in similar situations to Daley's this year told CBC News their approval took several weeks longer than previous years, but they had no reason to believe that would be the case in advance.

As for Daley herself, she wants an explanation and an apology from Dunlop. She also wants the system fixed so this doesn't happen to her next year or to other students entering in January.

"I was doing really, really well and paying all my stuff on time. And this really screwed me up."

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التالى Jagmeet Singh says the Canada Health Act could be used to challenge private health care. Could it?

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