Advocates fear federal disability benefits program won’t be fully funded in next budget

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A coalition of anti-poverty and disability groups is calling on the federal government to honor its commitment to bring the incomes of all recipients of provincial disability support programs above the poverty line by fully funding a new federal disability benefits program.

Many advocates who applauded Bill C-22 now worry that the benefit will still not receive the funding it needs in the 2024 federal budget to make a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

Bobby Giles, who lives with schizophrenia and a foot condition that prevents him from working, is one of them.

The Toronto man currently relies on $1,382 from the Ontario Disability Support Program, a $113 supplement for a special diet because he is diabetic, a supportive faith community and food banks for survive, leaving him with little financial freedom to meet his basic needs and desires.

“The system is broken,” Giles said Friday at the Daily Bread food bank in west Toronto. “Stable funding for people with disabilities will help reduce reliance on food banks, which is at an unprecedented level… so many people are having to choose between paying their rent and putting food on the table. »

Bill C-22, passed unanimously in June, aimed to lift people like Giles out of poverty by supplementing provincial support funding. But the program has not yet received funding or been fully designed, and many fear the program will not receive the funding it needs in this budget, which is expected to be revealed in March or April.

Giles says funding ownership of federal benefits so everyone has enough would give him simple financial freedoms he doesn’t currently have. When asked what he would do if he had more money every month to improve his life, he said his dreams were small.

“For me, it would be lactose-free milk…It’s about seven dollars.”

The benefit should be around $1,000 per month per person: defender

Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread Food Bank, an organization leading the charge, says bringing disability program recipients’ incomes above the poverty line means an allocation of $10 billion to $12 billion in the federal budget.

Across the country, about a million people rely on inadequate provincial disability benefit programs, he says.

Hetherington says the poverty line in Toronto is about $2,300 a month, so if people with disabilities receive less than $1,400 a month from provincial benefits, the federal top-up must be close to $1,000 a month.

A meeting of defense organizations with the Ministry of Finance in December did not leave Hetherington and his colleagues reassured.

Hetherington says Daily Bread and others told Finance Department staff the amount needed was $10 billion to $12 billion.

“They managed our expectations. They said, ‘Look, we’re talking about a federal deficit. We need to think about an era of higher interest rates and the cost of servicing the debt.’ The typical comment that we are circumventing austerity.”

Neil Hetherington
Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread Food Bank, says the national disability benefit would require $10 billion to $12 billion in funding to actually lift people currently receiving provincial disability benefits out of poverty. (Clara Pasieka/CBC)

He said advocates felt like people with disabilities shouldn’t expect the amount requested and that despite all the enthusiasm for the program, it wouldn’t be fully funded in the budget, he said. -he declares.

The federal government remains discreet on the figures

CBC Toronto asked the Ministry of Finance about the numbers and these concerns.

Katherine Cuplinskas, press secretary to the Minister of Finance, said in an email: “We cannot speculate on what may or may not be included in the next federal budget. »

It is common for governments not to answer questions about specific fund allocations before the budget is tabled.

Laurent de Casanove, press secretary to Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Kamal Khera, said in a statement: “Strengthen the financial security of Canadians living with disabilities and eliminate barriers to their full inclusion in the within our communities are key pillars. of the very first Action Plan for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities and the Accessible Canada Act.

De Casanove said the government spoke to many members of the disability community to ensure their views shaped the delivery.

“We are working to get benefits to eligible Canadians as quickly as possible,” de Casanove said.

Underfunding could be costly, advocate says

Disability advocacy and anti-poverty organizations have gained public support. As of February 9, nearly 60,000 letters had been sent to politicians from Canadians who supported the call to fully fund the federal disability benefit, according to the Daily Bread food bank.

Rabia Khedr
Rabia Khedr, national director of Disability Without Poverty, says she is concerned that the National Disability Benefit may be underfunded. (CBC)

Rabia Khedr, national director of the advocacy group Disability Without Poverty, said putting people with disabilities above the poverty line is the bare minimum. Many face higher costs for things like assistive devices that aren’t fully covered or for other needs.

She chooses to remain hopeful, but is “concerned” that the government has not touted full funding for the program in the next budget.

“I think there will be a lot of disappointment and hurt,” she said. “The whole trust building… is going to be undermined by not enough money. And it’s actually going to worsen the health and well-being of people, who are struggling right now.”

She says the government should carefully consider the costs of not fully funding the program in this budget.

“People are struggling. They are finding themselves in deeper and deeper poverty,” she said. “People with disabilities may need more health and social care support and services than if their basic needs were met.”

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