After a federal audit found the government was struggling to get supports for hard-to-reach populations, a coalition of 120 groups working to end poverty said the government should launch pilot programs modeled on those used by other countries to reach people who may never file a personal tax return.
Leila Sarangi, national director of Campaign 2000, said hill time It was encouraging to see that the Auditor General’s May 31 report listed the reasons why segments of the population face barriers to receiving benefits and why some people are unable or unwilling to file income tax returns. individuals. The audit looked at how Ottawa provided supports for low-income families, seniors, employed people and students – the Canada Child Benefit, Guaranteed Income Supplement, Canada Workers Benefit and of Canadian Studies, respectively – and revealed that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) had not done enough to make these populations aware of the existence of such supports and to offer the benefits.
“The personal income tax system will never be universal,” Sarangi said, explaining that some people “will never really file taxes” because they struggle with homelessness or health issues. mental illness, or because they are among the working poor whose employers do not provide adequate documentation or because they do not trust government institutions.
She called on the government to work more closely with charities and trusted community organizations that can transfer cash benefits directly to these populations. Sarangi added that it was also important to address how federal benefits interact with provincial and territorial benefits, which this audit did not address.
Responding to the report, Families Minister Karina Gould (Burlington, Ont.) told reporters that the audit highlighted a challenge that ESDC “has been struggling to overcome for many years.”
Gould acknowledged that some people in Canada “don’t show up in administrative databases, they don’t or aren’t required to file a tax return, and they’re not reflected in the census. It becomes difficult to remind them to request a service by mail or telephone because we may not know who they are.
Nicholas Swales, director of the Office of the Auditor General and lead author of the report on benefits for hard-to-reach populations, said there are ways for the CRA and ESDC to coordinate their efforts more effectively to get more people into the tax system through tax offices and similar programs. But he recommended that the agency and the department look for other, more creative solutions as well.
“Part of our observation,” Swales said, “is that when they’re calculating who they’re reaching, they’re sometimes ignoring the non-reporting population.”
“These programs are not designed with the intention that they will only be available to people who file taxes. The intention is that they help reduce poverty. This means that they should reach all people at low income and meet other eligibility requirements,” Swales said.
The auditors estimated that various federal departments and agencies invested $18 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year to reach people who are not receiving the benefits to which they are entitled and encourage them to apply.
Swales said this audit grew out of a previous audit of the Canada Child Benefit, where auditors realized that not everyone who was eligible for help received it. This caused the office to take a closer look at who was actually receiving the Canada Child Benefit, as well as other key benefits that are part of the government’s poverty reduction strategy.
Campaign 2000 calls on Canada to consider Brazil-based cash transfer model
Campaign 2000 is a coalition of organizations that formed at the start of the pandemic when it became clear that people on welfare were having their pandemic emergency assistance clawed back. The coalition’s focus has since broadened to focus more generally on building strong income security programs.
Sarangi said some of the programs the government has launched to bring more people into the income tax system are “really important” and should continue. These include community tax clinics that go into First Nations communities and work one-on-one with people to file their taxes so they can access benefits.
But she also called on the government to explore pilot programs that follow established models in Brazil, China, across Africa and California, which use innovative cash transfer programs to reach people who are outside the system. tax or banking system.
“There is one in Brazil called Bolsa Família. It’s probably the largest type of cash transfer program like this, and it’s funded by the federal government. They give money through charities in rural communities, to women. The only condition is that children are vaccinated so they can go to school,” Sarangi said.
Sarangi said charities and nonprofit community groups in Canada have already started providing this kind of support informally, but they need the government to step in to formalize the programs and provide the funding. Pilot projects to test this type of approach would involve modifying traditional funding envelopes to allow community organizations to distribute money directly, rather than limiting them to the delivery of programs and services.
“We wrote a proposal and sent it to the federal government to consider developing a cash transfer pilot project parallel to the personal income tax system,” Sarangi said, explaining that shelters for those without -shelter are already distributing money through the personal system. needs allowance.
Departments ‘reinventing the wheel’ by running parallel tax clinics, auditor says
At the May 31 press conference, Gould highlighted a Service Canada initiative called Reaching All Canadians, launched in 2020, which involves trusted members of the community “reaching out to those who have not made the request “.
National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier (Gaspésie-Les Îles de la Madeleine, Que.) said the CRA has committed more than $10 million over three years to a pilot program that provides grants to community organizations that manage free tax clinics. She said more than 3,400 organizations and 15,000 volunteers worked through these programs last year, helping “more than 574,000 people complete and file their income tax and benefit returns.”
Swales said these efforts have had “some success overall” in reaching these populations, but pointed out that by setting up parallel programs focused on tax clinics, the two government entities are duplicating their efforts. He stressed that greater integration between different government entities would produce better results, instead of “reinventing the wheel” by pursuing parallel agendas.
Swales added that both the CRA and ESDC have implemented changes to streamline the process for accessing benefits, and that ESDC’s strategy to reach all Canadians includes a pilot initiative where a departmental employee helps guide the person through the process, “don’t let them go” until their needs are met.
But, he said, this initiative does not cross departmental borders. “So from a customer perspective, it’s not a seamless, integrated approach,” Swales said.
Swales cited the Guaranteed Income Supplement for Seniors, which has an alternate mechanism for determining eligibility, as an example of a creative solution to the problem of how to reach people who are eligible for assistance.