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Canadians with disabilities feeling left behind by federal budget

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Canadians living with disabilities say they’re being left behind by the Liberal government, after a promised disability benefit was not included in last week’s budget.

The Liberals promised in a Speech from the Throne in 2020 to create a Canadian Disability Benefit, modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement for Seniors. A bill to create the benefit was introduced in Parliament in June 2021, but it died on the order paper when the September election was called.

The Liberal re-election platform included a promise to reintroduce a Disability Benefit Act, and the benefit was included in the post-election mandate letter for Carla Qualtrough, as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.

Yet, the 2022 budget makes no mention of the Disability Benefit Act, or a Canada Disability Benefit, though it does include $272.6 million over five years in funding for an employment strategy for persons with disabilities.

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s CFRA Live with Andrew Pinsent on Sunday morning, Kenzie McCurdy of StopGap Ottawa called the proposed benefit a ‘dangling carrot’ for Canadians with disabilities.

“People with disabilities in Canada are left hanging,” McCurdy said.

“If you look at what happened during COVID, and all the extra benefits that he (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) put out, with CERB and others… he said constantly that no one would be left behind… I don’t know why he’s not responding to this.”

McCurdy noted that the federal government did issue a one-time payment of $600 to Canadians who qualified for the Disability Tax Credit, but not all people living with disabilities qualify for the federal tax credit.

The government of Canada, as recently as last month, has acknowledged that one in five Canadians, about 22 per cent, identify as having a disability.

Advocacy group Disability Without Poverty said in a statement last week it was “disappointed but not surprised” that there was no mention of the Canada Disability Benefit in the 2022 budget. The group is asking the benefit be fast-tracked and that it not include any clawbacks to provincial aid.

“The government must show their commitment to the Canada Disability Benefit given the promise made to Canadians with disabilities in the September 2020 Throne speech. It’s time to table the bill now,” said National Director Rabia Khedr.

McCurdy said the proposed employment strategy is helpful for some, but not all.

“There are barriers for the people with disabilities who actually can work, and they need some help as well, but when (Qualtrough) actually talks about it, there is very little talk about those with disabilities who cannot work. Time and time again, this population is ignored. How on earth can we have faith in somebody who doesn’t even bring up and address that population?” McCurdy said.

In a statement, Qualtrough said the government is committed to reintroducing the legislation.

“The re-introduction of CDB legislation was a platform commitment and is in my mandate letter. It remains a priority for our government,” Qualtrough said. “In the spirit of ‘Nothing Without Us,’ we will continue to work with the disability community, benefit experts, Indigenous organizations and other stakeholders, to ensure the involvement of persons with disabilities at every stage of development of this benefit, including benefit design and eligibility criteria.” 

The minister also added that work is underway to reform federal benefits.

“In Budget 2021, we invested $11.9 million over three years to reform the eligibility processes for federal disability programs and benefits. This important work is underway, and will directly inform the Canada Disability Benefit,” she said. “We are also working with the provinces and territories to ensure that the Canada Disability Benefit will increase the monthly income of Canadians with disabilities living below the poverty line and not negatively impact entitlement to other programs and services.”

Qualtrough's office also noted that the budget includes $25 million in funding through 2027 for access to reading and published works for Canadians with print disabilities, and that persons with disabilities would be eligible for the the government's dental care program for Canadians with family incomes of less than $90,000 annually starting in 2023, ahead of the full implementation in 2025.

In the meantime, McCurdy said people with disabilities are getting tired of waiting.

“People are getting sicker. Without proper nutrition and already underlying medical health conditions, people are getting sicker, and that’s costing the medical system more, I can only imagine. We need to think preventatively and also just help these people,” she said. “Look how quickly CERB went out. Why do they get it within a matter of months and people with disabilities can’t be helped before a three-year study and lots of promises and delayed action?” 

Sally Thomas, who receives $939 a month from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), told CTV News Ottawa she was disappointed to see the disability benefit was not included in the budget. 

“I feel ignored, primarily, is the first reaction. Surprised is the second reaction, because they’ve been talking about it for two years now and they didn’t put it in the budget,” she said.

Thomas says a guaranteed income, like the proposed Canada Disability Benefit, would be life-changing.

“There’s some basic health-care needs that are not covered that I would cover by myself if I could afford to,” she said.

She said the growing availability of remote work allowed her to find a job in the fall, with ODSP covering other necessities, but costs are rising and support payments are not.

“What ODSP provides me is allowing me to survive; I haven’t had to go to a food bank in a long, long time. I can pay my rent, all my bills are paid, I’m not in debt, but coffee, new clothes periodically, a different hairstyle, those sorts of things I cannot afford.”

She pointed to the dollar value of CERB as an example of the government being able to determine a baseline payment for people.

“If $2,000 is what’s appropriate for you to live, why isn’t it what’s appropriate for me to live?” she said. “You and I are no different, we’re both people. I’m in a wheelchair. That’s it.”

ODSP offers up to $1,169 a month for basic needs and shelter for a single person.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Colton Praill.

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