2024 Federal Budget is a Colossal Betrayal of Tens of Thousands of People with Disabilities in Canada Languishing in Poverty

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities

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2024 Federal Budget is a Colossal Betrayal of Tens of Thousands of People with Disabilities in Canada Languishing in Poverty

April 22, 2024


1.    At a Glance

For the past week, the Trudeau Government has been under fire. Its April 16, 2024 Budget reveals that the promised Canada Disability Benefit will not lift many, if any, people with disabilities in Canada out of poverty.

This flies in the face of strong promises by the Trudeau Government. It proves that Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act, is terribly inadequate. It needs to be substantially strengthened, as we and many other disability advocates relentlessly urged without success in 2022 and 2023. Below we set out the key passage in the April 1, 2024 federal budget and two news articles that expose the Government’s betrayal of its commitments to people with disabilities.

It is very good that in 2020, the Trudeau Government promised to create the Canada Disability Benefit to lift people with disabilities out of poverty. Yet over the four years after that and before the April 16, 2024 Budget, the Trudeau Government had not gotten Parliament to budget any money to pay for this benefit. It had never before revealed how much the benefit would be. This defied credulity.

This Budget raises important questions. People with disabilities and all Canadians deserve answers. How could a Cabinet and a Government commit to a new social benefit needed by hundreds of thousands of impoverished individuals without first answering the question: “What will this cost?” Whenever disability advocates urge any government to do anything new, that is the first question they are always asked.

Moreover, how could it take the Trudeau Government four years just to figure out that the answer is an obviously inadequate $200 per month for any people with disabilities living in destitution, no matter how deep their poverty? The Government says it has been working hard for years on this, including more than one major consultation with the disability community.

Parliament was forewarned by many of us about the serious risk that this would happen. For example, watch the captioned video of the testimony of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on Bill C-22 at the House of Commons Standing Committee on November 14, 2022 and at the Senate Standing Committee on April 27, 2023. That testimony is one illustration of the disability advocates who pressed for amendments to substantially strengthen Bill C-22. It is now clearer than ever that people with disabilities need and deserve those amendments.

This update documents the extent of the Government’s betrayal of its earlier commitments. It explores lessons to be learned from this experience.

For people with disabilities living in poverty, any additional money helps, but they deserve enough money to keep the Trudeau Government’s commitments about lifting them out of poverty. It is not too late to fix this, at least in part. This update offers action tips on how you can help get Parliament to substantially increase the paltry Canada Disability Benefit. Read on!

We need all political parties to vote in Parliament now to substantially increase the Canada Disability Benefit. It’s not enough for opposition parties to criticize the Trudeau Government. They need to clearly and publicly state what increases they would support and take the needed steps during the Budget debates to make those increases happen.

2.    Anatomy of a Betrayal of People with Disabilities who Languish in Poverty

We learned extremely troubling news from the April 1, 2024 federal budget. Here are five illustrations of this.

First and worst, the maximum that people with disabilities can receive in a year from the Canada Disability Benefit is $2,400. That is a paltry $200 per month or around $6 per day. In combination with provincial disability benefits like ODSP, this will not lift many, if any, recipients out of poverty.

This flatly contradicts the clear, strong commitment that the minister then responsible for Bill C-22, Carla Qualtrough, repeated at each of her major speeches in Parliament about the Canada Disability Benefit in 2022 and 2023:

  • During her speech in support of her bill during the first day of Second Reading debates in the House of Commons on September 20, 2022, Minister Qualtrough said:

“Today, I begin with the following declaration: in Canada, no person with a disability should live in poverty.”

  • When she made her major speech in support of the bill during Third reading debates in the House of Commons on February 1, 2023, she pledged:

“When I stood in the House to debate this bill at second reading, I declared that in Canada no person with a disability should live in poverty.”

  • When she spoke in support of the bill at a Senate Standing Committee on March 22, 2023, she promised it again:

“When I stood in the House of Commons to debate this bill on Second Reading, I declared that in Canada, no person with a disability should live in poverty.”

  • On March 22, 2023, when speaking to a Senate Standing Committee, then federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough reinforced these expectations. She described the proposed Canada Disability Benefit and the work to pass it in Parliament as “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the lives of persons with disabilities in Canada, and many people are counting on us.”

Yet $200 per month will not materially reduce the number of working-age people with disabilities who live in poverty. This breaks the Trudeau Government’s pledge in the Senate, voiced by the bill’s Senate sponsor Senator Brent Cotter, on February 9, 2023:

“Overall, with the implementation of this bill, we will be able to dramatically reduce the number of working-age Canadians living in poverty.”

The Budget estimates that some 600,000 people with disabilities will be eligible for this benefit. This appears to fall well below the number of working age people with disabilities in Canada who now live below the poverty line. As we forewarned in 2022 and 2023, the bill also leaves out the many people with disabilities who are living in poverty but are older than working age. Disproportionately, people with disabilities are older. Disability poverty does not end at 65.

Second, the Budget reveals that the Federal Government is going to wait as long as it can before it proclaims Bill C-22 in force. The bill automatically comes into force one year after it received Royal Assent, unless the Federal Government proclaims it in force sooner. The Budget makes it clear that the Trudeau Government is planning to wait out the year. Even after that year is up, the Government plans to take another year before it starts paying out the Canada Disability Benefit in order to create regulations.

The payment is projected to start in July 2025. This all flies in the face of the Trudeau Government’s protestations when the bill was being debated in Parliament in 2022 and 2023 that it was urgent to pass the bill as fast as possible in order to get money into the pockets of impoverished people with disabilities as soon as possible. In 2022 and 2023, the Trudeau Government repeatedly used that ploy to try to scare disability advocates, opposition politicians and senators away from pressing for more amendments to strengthen the bill. During her October 31, 2022 speech at the House of Commons Standing Committee, Minister Qualtrough said:

“We wanted to find the quickest way forward, the fastest way to put money in people’s hands, and that’s why we determined that framework legislation was the best vehicle to achieve those three outcomes.”

Third, all federal parties agreed in Parliament in 2022 and 2023 that it is vital that no provincial or territorial government claw back any of the Canada Disability Benefit from provincial or territorial disability benefits like Ontario’s ODSP. Yet as far as we can tell from the Budget, the Federal Government has still not reached agreements with the provincial and territorial governments to ensure that there would be no clawbacks. The Budget states:

“To avoid persons with disabilities facing claw backs, on their provincial and territorial supports, the federal government is calling on provinces and territories to exempt Canada Disability Benefit payments from counting as income in relation to provincial or territorial supports. The federal government is making this investment due to the inadequacy of disability assistance provided by many provinces, which currently leaves far too many persons with disabilities in poverty.”

The Budget would not say this if the Federal Government had already reached “no clawback” agreements with the provincial and territorial governments. During 2022 and 2023 debates over Bill C-22 in Parliament, the Federal Government committed that it had a red line, that there must be no such clawbacks. This issue came up many times during debates and hearings in Parliament over this bill. From the Trudeau Government’s statements in 2022 and 2023, it had already been negotiating with the provincial and territorial governments over this for quite some time as of 2022. If those federal-provincial-territorial agreements were already in place, the Budget would not now be calling on those other governments to agree to no clawbacks.

Fourth, the Budget announced no measures to ensure that private insurance companies never claw back the Canada Disability Benefit from recipients of private long-term disability insurance benefits. This is especially worrisome.

In June 2023, the Trudeau Government vetoed an amendment to Bill C-22 that we and others fought hard to convince the Senate to pass in the spring of 2023. That amendment would have banned such private insurance clawbacks.

After the Trudeau Government vetoed that Senate amendment, a heavy burden shifted to the Federal Government to take action to ensure that there are never any private insurance clawbacks of the Canada Disability Benefit. Otherwise, the Canada Disability Benefit could in some cases end wrongly up in the bank accounts of some rich insurance companies, when it was supposed to benefit impoverished people with disabilities.

Fifth, when she appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on October 31, 2022, then Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough promised that the amount of the Canada Disability Benefit “will be established through the regulatory process.“ The “regulatory process” refers to the process of Cabinet making regulations to fill in the bill’s many unanswered questions.

Yet from the 2024 Budget, it appears that the regulatory process will not begin until this summer, after Bill C-22 goes into force. It is our understanding that the Government cannot undertake the formal regulatory process until the bill goes into force. The Government could have proclaimed the bill in force any time since the bill received Royal Assent last summer. However, the Trudeau Government has chosen not to do this, thereby delaying the whole process. We know the Government has already conducted consultations on the Canada Disability Benefit with the disability community. However, these were not part of a regulatory process under this bill.

We have now learned that the regulatory process that starts this summer will, it seems, not decide how much the Canada Disability Benefit will be. This is because, contrary to its earlier commitments, the Government appears to have already decided that it will be no more than $200 per month.

In 2022 and 2023, a number of disability organizations, including the AODA Alliance, campaigned hard to get Parliament to strengthen Bill C-22. We all predicted that without the amendments we sought, the Canada Disability Benefit could fall miles short of what people with disabilities need. It could take far too long to be paid to impoverished people with disabilities who desperately need immediate financial assistance.

For example, we and others pressed for amendments to ensure that the Canada Disability Benefit would be large enough to ensure that recipients are lifted above the official poverty line. We sought amendments to ensure that all people with disabilities in Canada who live below the poverty line would qualify for the Canada Disability Benefit. We wanted the bill to impose mandatory timelines on the Federal Government to start paying out the Canada Disability Benefit. We wanted the bill strengthened to build in safeguards to prevent future Cabinets from gutting the Canada Disability Benefit.

It is now clearer than ever that those amendments were needed. It was wrong for Parliament not to pass them.

3.    Learning from These Events

It is helpful to reflect upon important lessons to be learned from these events. Quite a number of disability advocates and organizations, including the AODA Alliance, fought hard for strong amendments to strengthen Bill C-22 when it was being debated in the House of Commons and then the Senate. Yet some other disability organizations did not. Some even actively opposed Parliament making any substantive amendments to the bill at all. They trusted the Federal Government to listen to the disability community when it later developed the regulations under the bill regarding such important issues as how big the Canada Disability Benefit would be and who would qualify to receive it.

For example, Inclusion Canada advocated to the House of Commons Standing Committee on November 16, 2022 not to make any amendments to Bill C-22 and argued against those who wanted the bill to include more specific guarantees. We respectfully disagreed with that position. Its vice president, Krista Carr, told the Standing Committee this:

“I know that some have suggested that Bill C-22 should contain more details regarding the design of the benefit and that it should be amended. Furthermore, legislators might be tempted to make amendments to clarify more technical elements of the benefit.

Although I clearly understand the motivations behind this, we do not think it is the best course of action. Indeed, some of these elements are extremely technical, and it is likely that the discussion on these elements in committee would greatly slow down the adoption of Bill C-22.

With all due respect to the parliamentarians on this committee and beyond, in the spirit of ‘nothing without us,’ we feel really strongly that it is persons with disabilities, their families and representative organizations who should be working arm in arm with government to design this benefit through the regulatory process.

Our view is that we have an opportunity before us now to get this foundational legislation enacted into law. Getting this bill passed as quickly as possible will allow government to start the formal process of negotiating with provinces and territories on how the benefit will interact with other provincial/territorial supports, which we know is a very complex system in this country.”

Another of the organizations that took a similar position was Disability without Poverty. On April 20, 2023, when a Senate Standing Committee was holding public hearings on Bill C-22, Rabia Khedr, speaking for Disability Without Poverty said the following in response to a senator’s question:

“Senator McPhedran: I have just one question to all our speakers. Welcome to you all. Am I understanding correctly that all three of you feel that Bill C-22, as it is now, should proceed with no attempt at amendments?

Ms. Khedr: Yes, we do. The disability community, individuals with disabilities advocating for Bill C-22, are generally united in the view that this bill needs to go through as is. We will work with the system on regulations that address all the concerns that everyone has. As Guillaume says, we’re not going to get it right. If we wait for perfect, it will never come. We need to start somewhere and work toward the goal of perfect over time. Let’s start addressing the gap. Let’s start to end disability poverty for some in the hope of, over time, ending it for all.”

On October 31, 2022, Michelle Hewitt, Chair of Disability Without Poverty, told the House of Commons Standing Committee in effect not to amend the bill, stating:

“We believe that this benefit will be most effectively delivered if the details are co-created with disabled people like us. That collaboration cannot happen in this committee, in the House or the Senate. It can happen only in the development of regulations with disabled people as equals in that process of collaboration.”

This was the message that the Trudeau Government wanted disability advocates to present to parliament. The Government did not want to strengthen the bill to include any concrete and specific guarantees in it for people with disabilities. The Government eagerly quoted witnesses who appeared at Parliament’s public hearings and who echoed that position. The Government used them to argue against the many of us who very publicly were pressing for the bill to be substantively strengthened by amendments before it was passed.

During debates over Bill C-22 in Parliament in 2022 and 2023, the Government’s bottom line was driven home in the Senate by its official spokesperson, Senator Brent Cotter. He called on the disability community to trust the Government. This is documented in the February 12, 2023 AODA Alliance Update.

As well, during her March 22, 2023 presentation to a Senate Standing Committee on Bill C-22, then Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough stated that the disability community was trusting the Federal Government with properly implementing Bill C-22, despite its lack of specifics. She said:

“I think the disability community has been saying, ‘Trust us. We’ve got this.’ I will be at the table and we’ll be at the table with them and we’ll build on all the work that we have done together over eight years. This has been a trust-building exercise that started with the Accessible Canada Act in the most accessible and inclusive consultations ever undertaken in the country. We have grown from there as a community.”

We responded in the April 19, 2023 AODA Alliance Update that we do not believe that the disability community ever said that any one party or government, much less every future government, should simply be trusted, without the necessary safeguards being built into the legislation.

The 2024 Budget reveals that it was wrong for anyone in the disability community to trust the Government on this issue. Below, we set out April 19, 2024 news reports on this issue in the Toronto Star and the National Post. It appears from media coverage of the Budget that some who had resisted disability advocates’ efforts to amend Bill C-22 to substantively strengthen it in 2022 and 2023 are now objecting to the insufficiency of $200 per month for the Canada Disability Benefit. We anticipate that most if not all the witnesses who testified before the House of Commons or Senate on Bill C-22 in 2022 or 2023 would have agreed, if asked, that $200 per month for the Canada Disability Benefit, is far too little to lift impoverished people with disabilities out of poverty.

Those that did not want the bill strengthened put their faith in their belief that the Trudeau Government would or should “co-create” regulations under the bill that would set all the specifics, like the amount of the Canada Disability Benefit and who would qualify to receive it. It is now clear that any such faith, hope or expectation was unwarranted.

Those who opposed amendments to strengthen Bill C-22 placed a great deal of trust in Carla Qualtrough, who was then the federal Disabilities Minister who was steering Bill C-22 through Parliament. The Trudeau Government urged the disability community to do so. It emphasized that she has a disability, has a background in human rights law, and passionately argued in support of passing Bill C-22.

However, we and others cautioned that Minister Qualtrough, no matter how supportive, is only one vote in the federal Liberal caucus and in Parliament. Moreover, she was not immortal. She would not remain Disabilities Minister forever.

Her remaining term in the position of Disabilities Minister turned out to be quite short, after Parliament passed Bill C-22 in the summer of 2023. Within weeks, Prime Minister Trudeau shuffled her to a different Cabinet portfolio.

4.    How You Can Help

Please contact your Member of Parliament. Insist that the Government keep its pledge to lift people with disabilities out of poverty. Call for the Canada Disability Benefit to be substantially increased so that it will in fact lift people with disabilities out of poverty.

Contact the media. Tell news reporters that impoverished people with disabilities need and deserve more than $200 additional per month to lift them out of poverty.

Call on all political parties to commit to press for amendments to the Budget. Canada has a minority Parliament. We need to see what each party is prepared to do, beyond making flowery speeches, to live up to the commitment to lift impoverished people with disabilities out of poverty.

5.    For More Background

Watch the testimony of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky before the House of Commons Standing Committee on November 14, 2022, and his testimony before the Senate Standing Committee on April 27, 2023, all captioned.

For the entire campaign to strengthen Bill C-22, visit the AODA Alliance website’s Bill C-22 page.



 Excerpt from the 2024 Canada Budget

Originally posted at https://www.budget.canada.ca/2024/report-rapport/chap2-en.html

Launching the Canada Disability Benefit

The government’s landmark legislation, the Canada Disability Benefit Act, created the legal framework for a direct benefit for low-income working age persons with disabilities. This benefit fills a gap in the federal government social safety net between the Canada Child Benefit and the Old Age Security for persons with disabilities and is intended to supplement, not replace, existing provincial and territorial income support measures. The federal government is making this new benefit a reality.

Budget 2024 proposes funding of $.1 billion over six years, beginning in 2024-25, and $1.4 billion per year ongoing, for a new Canada Disability Benefit, including costs to deliver the benefit.

Budget 2024 further announces the government would begin providing payments to eligible Canadians starting in July 2025, following successful completion of the regulatory process and consultations with persons with disabilities.

To ensure access to the Canada Disability Benefit for eligible Canadians, and to address an anticipated significant financial barrier associated with benefit take-up, Budget 2024 further proposes funding of $243 million over six years, beginning in 2024-25, and $41 million per year ongoing, to cover the cost of the medical forms required to apply for the Disability Tax Credit.

In the spirit of “Nothing Without Us”, through the regulatory process, the government will provide meaningful and barrier-free opportunities to collaborate and ensure the benefit is reflective of the needs of those receiving it. Persons with disabilities will be consulted on key elements of the benefit’s design, including maximum income thresholds and phase-out rates. The benefit design will need to fit the investment proposed in Budget 2024.

The government intends for the Canada Disability Benefit Act to come into force in June 2024 in order for payments to begin in July 2025. The proposed design is based on a maximum benefit amount of $2,400 per year for low-income persons with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 4. To deliver the benefit as quickly as possible and to ensure nation-wide consistency of eligibility, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit would be available to people with a valid Disability Tax Credit certificate. As proposed, this benefit is estimated to increase the financial well-being of over 600,000 low-income persons with disabilities.

The government will continue working with persons with disabilities as well as health care and tax professionals to find ways to increase take-up, and lower the administrative burden, of obtaining a Disability Tax Credit certificate.

To avoid persons with disabilities facing claw backs, on their provincial and territorial supports, the federal government is calling on provinces and territories to exempt Canada Disability Benefit payments from counting as income in relation to provincial or territorial supports. The federal government is making this investment due to the inadequacy of disability assistance provided by many provinces, which currently leaves far too many persons with disabilities in poverty.

The Canada Disability Benefit establishes an important support for persons with disabilities and will ensure a more fair chance for future generations of persons with disabilities. We know that every dollar matters to those living with a disability. That is why the government aspires to see the combined amount of federal and provincial or territorial income supports for persons with disabilities grow to the level of Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), to fundamentally address the rates of poverty experienced by persons with disabilities.

$5,200 in Federal Benefits for a Full-Time Student with a Disability

Nathan is a 22-year-old full-time student who uses a wheelchair. Because he is keen to complete his studies and join the workforce, Nathan is taking a full course load year-round and unable to work. With a valid Disability Tax Credit certificate, Nathan would also receive the maximum Canada Disability Benefit Amount of $2,400 per year.

Combined with his Canada Student Grant for Students with Disabilities of $2,800, Nathan would receive a total of $5,200 in federal disability support per year to help him complete his studies. He may also be eligible to receive up to $20,000 per year via the Canada Student Grant for Services and Equipment for Students with Disabilities, to help him pay for the cost of equipment and services he may need for his studies.

 Toronto Star April 19, 2024

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/these-canadians-are-heartbroken-by-what-the-trudeau-government-delivered-on-a-high-profile-promise/article_055aa152-fd91-11ee-95e2-af12b7f10d.html

Disability benefit draws criticism

Some Canadians say they’re ‘heartbroken’ at Trudeau government falling short on its promises

Mark Ramzy Toronto Star

OTTAWA – A historic federal disability benefit that will target low-income people with disabilities across the country has been finally funded in this year’s budget, but it’s drawing fierce criticism from advocates and opposition parties who say it will have little impact.

With $.1 billion over the first six years and $1.4 billion annually after that, the benefit is an attempt to deliver on a promise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government made nearly four years ago – that disability supports in provinces had been inadequate for far too long, and it was time Ottawa stepped in and supported the more than one million Canadians with disabilities living in poverty.

Here’s what you need to know.


What is the disability benefit?

The federal Liberals first promised a nation-wide disability benefit in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s faced numerous delays, including a snap election, a cabinet reshuffle and a lengthy regulatory process. A formal bill was tabled in Parliament in 2021, but it died when Trudeau called an election later that year. The Liberals campaigned on bringing in a benefit intended to reduce poverty similar to the Canada Child Benefit and Guaranteed Income Supplement, and restarted the process in 2022 – but the bill included few details and gave the government until 2025 to implement it.

What the government made clear at the time was that it would be available to working-age people with disabilities and that it will take into account the poverty line and additional costs people with disabilities face.

Since then, the government has been consulting with disability advocates, but the delays led to frustration among many who feared Ottawa had abandoned its promise.

Amid high inflation, budgetary pressures and talks of fiscal restraint, optimism waned, and in the lead-up to the budget, 47 Liberal MPs joined opposition parties to publicly push the government to fund it.


How much is the benefit and who qualifies?

The federal government delivered and funded the benefit in the budget tabled Tuesday – but critics say the amount is too little, covers too few people, and has too many obstacles to qualify for it.

The benefit will offer a maximum amount of $2,400 a year indexed to inflation, or $200 a month and be tax-free but income-tested. It’s expected to roll out starting July 2025 and cover 00,000 Canadians with disabilities over time, though not right away due to barriers obtaining a disability tax credit – a requirement for eligibility.

“We weren’t expecting much … but we are heartbroken, deeply disappointed, feeling devalued,” said Rabia Khedr, the national director of Disability Without Poverty. “We felt we had some power, but we’ve been reminded that our power doesn’t matter.”

The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated the annual benefit should have been at least $14,35 per person before clawbacks to address the gap between welfare and the poverty threshold in any area in Canada (provinces and territories have varying levels of disability support). The government is also putting $243 million over six years and $41 million annually after that to cover the costs of medical forms required to obtain the disability tax credit, which requires doctor’s approval. But that system has received its fair share of criticism, too.

“Most people living in the deepest of poverty don’t want to pay a doctor to fill out a form to get a tax credit that doesn’t get them anything because they have no income,” Khedr said.

What’s not yet clear, however, is what the maximum income and phaseout rates will be, and whether any provinces will clawback their own payments. In Ontario, the maximum disability assistance is $1,308 per month.


What has been the reaction?

After years of hope, outrage was instant. On Thursday, a coalition of the country’s biggest disability advocacy organizations released a statement decrying the benefit as “simply not enough.”

“It’s deeply, deeply distressing when what is required in the government’s own legislation is sort of ignored,” Amanda MacKenzie, the national director of March of Dimes Canada, told the Star.

In Ottawa, meanwhile, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called the funding “checkbox politics,” while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party could not support the budget until key concerns, including the disability benefit, were addressed.

“How is (Trudeau) going to justify to people living with disabilities that $200 a month is enough to meet their needs? I need to hear a plan on that before making a decision,” Singh told reporters after the budget was tabled.

The Trudeau government, for its part, acknowledged those concerns. “We recognize there is more to do. We will be working with provinces and territories to make sure, first of all, that this disability money is not clawed back and, secondly, that we can do even more in partnership with provinces and territories for Canadians with disabilities,” Trudeau said Wednesday.


Critics say the disability benefit that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government delivered in the budget tabled this week is too little, covers too few people and has too many obstacles to qualify for it. Justin Tang The Canadian Press

National Post April 19, 2024

Originally posted at https://nationalpost.com/opinion/liberal-budget-gets-miserly-with-disabled-people#:~:text=The%20federal%20disability%20payment%20was,to%20amounts%2C%20eligibility%20or%20implementation.&text=Ten%20months%20later%2C%20the%20amount,to%20July%20of%20next%20year.

A lavish Liberal budget gets miserly with disabled people; Long-awaited federal benefit disappoints

Graphic: Peter J. Thompson National Post / Even with new federal disability benefits in the budget, Ontarians with disabilities will struggle, Randall Denley says.;

This week’s federal budget doused the last, best hope for Ontarians who are too disabled to work. Their own provincial government thinks $1,308 a month is a dandy amount of support, but the federal government has long promised a new Canada Disability Benefit.

Optimists believed that the federal money and the cash from the province would finally get disabled Ontarians up to a minimum subsistence income. On Tuesday, they found out that the big-spending Justin Trudeau government was going to allot them $2,400 a year.

If better funded, the federal plan would have gotten the Ontario government off the hook for its own slightly improved, but still inadequate performance on disability support. Now, the provincial Doug Ford government will have to decide whether to count the new payment as income, thus reducing its own Ontario Disability Support Program obligations. That would be consistent with its approach up to now, but it would nullify even the limited benefit offered by the new program.

On the bright side for the Ford government, the federal announcement makes Ontario’s own disability support look positively lavish by comparison.

The federal budget’s $.1-billion announcement sounds impressive, but it’s only about $1 billion a year for six years. It’s a tiny sum for a government that is spending $535 billion this year alone. It would be difficult to argue that the federal Liberals are short of funds.

With that $1 billion a year, the federal government intends to “increase the financial well-being of over 600,000 persons with disabilities.” It’s difficult to see how the phrase “financial well-being” could apply to Ontarians who would be bringing in a total of little over $1,500 a month.

Disabled Ontarians have been waiting a long time for their meagre handout. The federal disability payment was promised in 2020 but wasn’t passed until 2023. The legislation came with no details as to amounts, eligibility or implementation.

Ten months later, the amount is set but the disabled shouldn’t expect the money to start trickling right away. That won’t happen until July of next year. The feds, you see, need time to consult with disabled people “to ensure that the benefit is reflective of the needs of those receiving it.” And yet the government’s own website says consultations with the disabled already took place last year.

The federal government is also calling on territories and provinces not to count the new disability benefit as income. Again, the feds said a year ago that talks about that were underway. But Ontario government spokesperson Caitlin Clark says there haven’t been negotiations with the province yet. It is waiting for the federal government to produce detail on how the new program will work and who will benefit from it.

The fear that provincial governments would reduce benefits by the amount of the new federal payment is not unwarranted.

Ontario already does that when it comes to the Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit. Disabled people who qualify can apply for the CPP benefit but it won’t net them much extra money because the provincial government then reduces its own payments.

It’s really an unconscionable practice. The CPP benefit provides a maximum monthly payout of $1,0, although the average is $1,17. Combine that with the provincial money and a disabled Ontarian would have some chance of scraping by.

That’s more than can be said for the $2,400 a year the Trudeau government has promised. It’s a shockingly low amount. Last year, parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux modelled the costs for three different disability benefit scenarios. The average payment for the least expensive model he considered was $7,83 a year.

When the concept was introduced in 2020, then minister Carla Qualtrough said the new program would be based on the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). That led reasonable people to believe that the amounts might be similar. The GIS pays a low-income single person up to $1,05 a month, more than five times the new disability amount.

In 2020, the government noted that there were six million Canadians with disabilities and, as of 2017, 850,000 of them lived in poverty. The new program won’t even help all of that group.

The odd thing about the federal government’s tepid support for the disabled is that the idea itself is a political winner. A poll earlier this month by the Angus Reid Institute found that 91 per cent of Canadians support a benefit. Payments for the disabled should be at or above the poverty line, 8 per cent said.

Meaningful help for the disabled is an opportunity for government to do the right thing and get broad public support for it. For its part, Ontario should say right now that the small federal sum won’t mean lower Ontario payments. Anything less would be ridiculous.

National Post Randall Denley is an Ottawa journalist. andalldenley1@gmail.com

Randall Denley