Ontario Student Assistance Program delay drives student deep into debt  

Denise Daley

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,” said a distraught Daley. 

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.

Laura Mae Lindo

The province said 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,” said the MPP for Kitchener Centre.

“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 added.

The Minister for Colleges and Universities, Jill Dunlop, who previously denied a backlog, did not accept an invitation to speak on the subject.

However, the minister’s press secretary, Liz Tumoi, said “there are some delays for a very small number of students with complex reviews.”

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.

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 said 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.”