Advocates hope new federal disability benefit could improve access

Advocates say the current federal disability support system, focused on the Disability Tax Credit (DTC), is difficult to navigate and in dire need of reform.

“Current federal programs like DTC pose too many barriers to access and leave too many Canadians with disabilities without support,” said Kimberley Hanson, Executive Director of Diabetes Canada in Ottawa, who is nonetheless “delighted to see the government adopt an inclusive approach to establish a new benefit program for Canadians with disabilities.

Ron Malis, financial advisor at Reegan Financial in Toronto that serves clients with disabilities and their families, said federal programs for people with disabilities “are based on eligibility and application rather than access and support.” .

“Much is [about] who qualifies and “let’s make sure that people who don’t qualify don’t get it,” that becomes the overarching goal, “he said.

On June 22, Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough introduced Bill C-35, the Disability Benefit Act Canada, in the House of Commons to establish a framework for the Canada Disability Benefit (PCH).

The BDC would be aimed at working-age Canadians “with the goal of lifting hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities out of poverty,” according to a press release from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), and “would complement, not replace, federal and provincial-territorial supports.

Also in June, ESDC launched the Disability Inclusion Action Plan, a public engagement process to help the government develop a “robust” employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities; improve the process for determining eligibility for federal disability programs and benefits; and design the BDC. The public inquiry ends on August 30.

In the 2021 federal budget, the government proposed $ 11.9 million to ESDC over three years to undertake consultations to reform the eligibility process for federal disability assistance and to work towards creating of a CBD. In the September 2020 Speech from the Throne, the government indicated that it would create a CBD modeled on the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for seniors.

In a press release, March of Dimes Canada applauded the government’s BDC initiative: “If well designed, [the CDB] has the potential to increase financial security and enable economic empowerment, quality work, independence and equality for many members of the community.

The Canadian Labor Congress also welcomed Bill C-35, but expressed concern that the legislation lacked specific details such as CDB eligibility guidelines or implementation timelines.

Moreover, a possible federal election in the fall would further delay progress on the legislation, said. Larry Rousseau, executive vice president of the CLC, in a statement: “This means that people with disabilities will continue to experience high rates of poverty and marginalization, with little hope of relief in the near future.

Bill C-35 was tabled a day before MPs left Ottawa for summer recess, and an election in the fall would mean the bill would have to be reintroduced into a new legislature. The government did not include measures for persons with disabilities in its budget implementation bill, which received Royal Assent in June.

Conservative Senator Don Plett, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, accused the government of dragging its feet while waiting the day before the end of the parliamentary session to introduce Bill C-35. As there is no more time to deal seriously with this bill and the federal elections that are looming, this bill arrives much too late … for millions of Canadians and their families, ”he said at the meeting. ‘a debate on June 22.

Senator Marc Gold, the government representative in the Senate, attributed the delay to lengthy consultations the government undertook with representatives of communities with disabilities before introducing the bill. “The government hopes that when work resumes after the summer, progress will be made in passing this bill. [Parliament]”said Gold.

Malis said the success of the CBD will depend on how much financial support it provides and how receiving the benefit will affect a person’s access to other disability support programs. For example, a person living in Ontario who receives Canada Pension Plan disability benefits has their benefits under the Ontario Disability Support Program reduced dollar for dollar. “You don’t finish early at all,” Malis said.

On July 21, Qualtrough co-chaired a virtual meeting with provincial and territorial ministers responsible for social services to discuss improving collaboration between the federal government and provinces and territories to support people with disabilities. According to a statement, the ministers agreed to meet again before the end of the year.

Advocates suggest that a disability benefit could alleviate some of the problems they say plague the current disability support system and the DTC.

One of the main problems is that as a non-refundable tax credit, the DTC is of little value to Canadians living with disabilities who have low income and no caregivers to whom they can transfer the tax. credit, advocates say. “There are a lot of independent adults living with disabilities without any income,” Malis said.

David Truong, senior advisor, financial planning and advisory services at Banque Nationale Banque Privée 1859 in Montreal, said that it is possible that the CBD is aimed at people with modest income or without income due to a disability, “Since the goal of the new Canada Disability Benefit is to overcome persistent barriers to full economic and social participation.

Another problem is that the DTC application process can be complex and lack transparency, especially for people with mental disabilities, said Peter Weissman, partner at Cadesky and Associates LLP in Toronto and former co-chair of the Advisory Committee on persons with disabilities (CAD) from the federal government. . If a person’s DTC application is rejected by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), they cannot access more than a dozen other credit-related disability support programs, including the RDSP. .

“The DTC is an archaic tax credit that should be replaced by something [that operates] outside of tax laws, ”said Weissman, who hopes current discussions over a disability benefit may signal a move away from a DTC-focused support system.

“There is a huge argument to be made that the CRA is simply not designed to administer a social program,” said Hanson. “It should be the ESDC.

The BDC should be structured like the GIS, she said, which is easier to access and “integrated with any other tax filing you already do, so it’s not a painstaking prostop applying.

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