Canada disability benefit severely underfunded in Budget 2024 and Canadians with disabilities will pay the price

Posted on April 25, 2024 in Inclusion Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributors
April 25, 2024.   By Neil Hetherington, Contributor

Our government faced a pivotal decision before the 2024 federal budget to do something about helping Canadians with disabilities and it didn’t seize the opportunity. 

In the lead-up to Budget 2024, a surge of news coverage, advocacy initiatives, and calls to action heightened expectations for the Canada Disability Benefit. Thirty Liberal members of Parliament even issued an open letter urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to prioritize the benefit as a core tenant of liberal social policy.

Daily Bread Food Bank partnered with over 40 organizations across the country — from social and community services to other food banks — to champion the needs of the disability community in Canada and advocate for a fully funded benefit in the budget.

That collective sense of optimism and anticipation was met with profound disappointment upon the budget’s release last week. Although it allocates $6.1 billion over six years to the program, the reality is that support is narrowly focused and insufficient. Only 600,000 of over one million working-age Canadians with disabilities will be eligible, and support is limited to $200 per month, amounting to merely $6.66 a day.

While this program’s objective was to help reduce poverty among working-age Canadians with disabilities, it offers little more than reimbursement for two bags of groceries a month and leaves hundreds of thousands of individuals behind.

Canadians with disabilities didn’t just need a funded Canada disability benefit; they needed a fully funded one that was accessible.

A fully funded benefit would have been adequate in bringing eligible recipients to a minimum of Canada’s official poverty line. One-in-seven people who access food banks nationally rely on provincial disability income support. In many provinces, that means living more than $800 below the poverty line each month.

Furthermore, as of 2017 there were 917,000 working-age Canadians with disabilities living in poverty. Seven years later, estimations are that the number of Canadians who should be eligible for this program far exceed one million. This means that the budget fell short not only in providing enough funding, but also in making the program accessible to all those who need it.

Accessibility of the benefit is also hindered by requiring applicants to have a disability tax credit certificate. The budget allocated $41 million to the administration costs that will be associated with individuals having to visit a doctor to obtain a certificate, placing additional and unnecessary strain on the health care system and those who desperately need this help.

Although this budget was undoubtedly prepared with a series of pre-election strategies in mind, the Liberal government had the political and social license to do more on the benefit.

Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act, already succeeded in bringing all political parties together when it was unanimously passed into law by Parliament in June 2023. Further, a recent survey completed by Angus Reid Institute found that over 90 per cent of Canadians support the Canada disability benefit, although only five per cent believed the Liberals would implement it effectively.

The principle of the Canada disability benefit extends far beyond wealth redistribution or being a social safety net. It is an investment in people that has a series of positive ramifications, not only on empowering people with disabilities to live a life of dignity, but also on our economy, health, education, and social systems.

Financial stability leads to numerous positive outcomes, from furthering education and training opportunities to enabling community participation and involvement that fosters sense of belonging.

To the thousands upon thousands of Canadians who advocated for a fully funded benefit, it was never about seeing just another income support program come into effect. It was about extending the type of tangible support to Canadians with disabilities living in severe poverty, helping them overcome its relentless cycle.

As a food bank, we see firsthand the disproportionate impact that the state of our economy has on people with disabilities, experiencing poverty at twice the rate of the general population. Our government faced a pivotal decision before the budget to do something about this and it didn’t seize the opportunity that was before them. But there is still hope.

Organizations across Canada, including Daily Bread Food Bank, will continue to stand alongside the disability community, advocating tirelessly for the Canada disability benefit to achieve its stated purpose of reducing poverty among people with disabilities.

Neil Hetherington is the chief executive officer of the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto.

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