Opinion: ‘Budget the benefit,’ say disability groups to Canada's finance minister 

Opinion: Canada Disability Benefit, promised in 2020, is essential now as persons with disability live in deep poverty in the face of rising costs.

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Will the 44th Parliament go down in history as the one that unanimously ensured that people with disabilities had a chance to live with dignity? Will it be promise made, promise kept? Or will disabled people continue to live in deep poverty, with no assistance coming in any reasonable time frame?

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Working-age Canadians with disabilities living in poverty were promised the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) in Prime Minister Trudeau’s speech from the throne in September 2020. Deep in COVID-19 this seemed like a lifeline, as the only emergency relief was a one-off payment of $600 delivered to only those people with disabilities who were identifiable in federal databases.

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The initial proposed legislation, Bill C-35, was introduced on the heels of Parliament resting for the summer in June 2021. An election was called. Parliament was dissolved along with C-35. It would take a further year for the same legislation, rebranded as Bill C-22, to be tabled again in 2022.

This achieved Royal assent in June this year under the watchful eye of Minister Carla Qualtrough with parliamentarians of both Houses doing their due diligence to ensure that people with disabilities were central to the process of implementing the benefit and taking time to improve the legislation along the way.

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Things certainly seemed to be moving along, but no one in the disability community was going to rest. Co-creation of an historic benefit to lift disabled people out of poverty had to remain the goal: nothing about us without us.

Over the summer a cabinet shuffle brought a new minister, Kamal Khera, with a different portfolio. The proposed engagement process announced on July 24 fell short of the in-depth engagement that the disability community had been promised. And as time passes, disabled people find themselves in deeper and deeper poverty with the cost of living rising; never mind the cost of living with a disability.

This year’s Welfare in Canada report from Maytree shows that once again there is no province where the disability assistance payment reaches the poverty line. In Vancouver, the poverty line for a single person is $2,322 and the disability assistance income in B.C. is $1,483.50.

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None of these calculations take into consideration the additional cost of disability.

The Canada Disability Benefit can offer more for people’s basic needs, but the nuances of living with a disability in poverty can only be understood through genuine co-creation — involving persons with disabilities in creating the details of the benefit.

Disabled people in poverty need this benefit and they need it now. Disability Without Poverty is calling on the minister of finance to “budget the benefit” and reassure Canadians that the benefit will be of an adequate amount, and reach people before an election is called.

What will the legacy of this government be when it comes to disabled people living in poverty? Will they be left hanging and wondering what comes next with a new government with new priorities?

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We are ready and able to provide the necessary co-creation support needed for the system to implement the Canada Disability Benefit and get money to the people who need it most.

Let’s hurry up and regulate this benefit so that disabled Canadians in poverty can have some relief and can live with dignity.

Based in B.C., Michelle Hewitt is the Chair of Disability Without Poverty. Rabia Khedr is the national director of Disability Without Poverty.

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