Many Canadians with disabilities struggle to get benefits that could lift them out of poverty

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Lorraine Fay is worried about her future. The 63-year-old suffers from diabetes, fibromyalgia and post-traumatic stress disorder and relies on disability benefits to pay her bills. “I’m worried, having no savings,” she said. “My retirement is hard to think about.”

A resident of London, Ontario, Ms. Fay receives $ 1,176.47 per month from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), which includes a diabetes allowance. She spends $ 497 of that amount on rent, with her employer subsidizing the remainder of the monthly total of $ 835. What is left goes to food, utilities, medicine and other living expenses.

She also earns $ 23.60 an hour as a part-time peer support worker for the Canadian Mental Health Association, but her ODSP payments are reduced once her income reaches $ 200 per month. . Half of the net monthly earnings above this threshold are deducted from support payments.

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For now, Ms. Fay is taking it day by day. “Today I’m working with what I have to make sure today is the best it can be,” she says. “But tomorrow I can’t even think.

Many Canadians with disabilities find it difficult to obtain benefits that could alleviate the financial barriers they face. Either the materials are not promoted, involve administrative hurdles, or take months to be approved. Often, family members are forced to navigate the complex application process – or rely on disability consultants. To further complicate matters, the provinces differ greatly in what they offer.

But there are financial vehicles in Canada where people with disabilities and their families can save for the future. And financial aid for people with disabilities exists across the country. The challenge, in part, is that they’re hard to find.

In June, the federal government introduced Bill C-35, the Canadian Disability Benefit Act, in the House of Commons. Its stated goal was to establish a new Canada Disability Benefit (CHRP) that would lift Canadians with disabilities out of poverty.

Before it can be passed, a federal election has been called, meaning the bill will have to be reintroduced into the new Parliament. The government also offered Canadians a one-time disability benefit last fall due to the pandemic. And he launched an action plan for the inclusion of people with disabilities, using public input to develop an improved employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities.

Before a person can receive a disability benefit, they must be eligible for the Disability Tax Credit, a non-refundable tax credit that helps Canadians with disabilities or those who support them financially reduce the amount of disability. income tax they might have to pay. In 2020, the maximum amount for people with disabilities was $ 8,576, with a maximum additional credit of $ 5,003 for those under 18.

Is it sufficient? According to the 2017 Canadian Disability Survey, nearly 850,000, or 21%, of working-age Canadians with disabilities live in poverty. “The need is huge,” says Graeme Treeby, disability consultant with Bright Futures Ability Network in Toronto, adding that the monthly ODSP maximum for a single person is $ 1,169 per month. Keep in mind that the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $ 1,989. The nationwide average rent is $ 1,763 per month.

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Mr. Treeby is cautiously optimistic about Bill C-35. “My concern is, how will provincial governments react to any influx of funding to individuals? If the province deducted federal funding from the provincial government, there would be no benefit for people with disabilities.

Whatever the outcome of Bill C-35, Mr. Treeby suggests that the first thing people with disabilities or their families should do is apply for federal benefits and then create places to grow those assets.

The first step is to establish a Henson Trust, a tool that protects provincial disability benefits. This trust ensures that a disabled child can receive an inheritance while receiving government funding for people with disabilities. This involves appointing a trustee who will manage the inheritance of a disabled person, with legal control over a person’s assets held by the trust.

A Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) can help save for the long-term financial security of a person with a disability who is eligible for the DTC. Contributions to an RDSP are not tax deductible and can be made until a beneficiary turns 59 – up to a maximum of $ 200,000.

In a Canada Disability Savings Grant, the federal government provides matching grants of up to 300%, depending on family income and the beneficiary’s contribution, up to a maximum of $ 3,500 per year, with a lifetime limit of $ 70,000. Matching grants are paid into the RDSP on contributions until a person with a disability turns 49.

Other options are to invest the money received as part of an inheritance. Because ODSP is means-tested, people earning more than $ 40,000 are not eligible, Treeby says. So if a disabled person inherited $ 140,000, for example, they would lose ODSP coverage. However, “they can put up to $ 100,000 in segregated funds – these are exempt up to $ 100,000 – without losing their right to ODSP,” he says.

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Ron Malis, a Toronto-based financial advisor with Independent Financial Concepts Group, works closely with the disability community. He is well aware of the complexity of the application process. “Engage the right professionals,” he says, like a lawyer and a power of attorney.

Capitalize on other advantages

Collette Griffin, a Toronto mother of two disabled adult sons, has relied heavily on the Ontario Passport Program, which provides funding for adults with disabilities for community engagement services and supports activities of daily living. She says he paid a support worker for one of his sons.

Ms. Griffin’s sons are also eligible for discounts on the Internet and on transportation. Rogers offers significant discounts to people with disabilities as part of its Connected to Succeed program.

And people with disabilities in her city can use the Toronto Transit Commission Fair Pass program, paying $ 2.10 each way. In Ottawa, Para Transpo, a service for people unable to use conventional public transit, provides discounted transportation for people with disabilities.

ODSP also covers transportation costs over $ 15 per month to attend medical appointments and covers meals during those visits. Under ODSP, people with disabilities can receive a special diet allowance up to a maximum of $ 250 per month.

The program also covers orthotics, some medications and glasses, says Malis.

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Academically, the Canada Student Services and Equipment Grant for People with Permanent Disabilities provides funding of up to $ 20,000 for each loan year to help students with disabilities overcome academic barriers. And Disability Alliance BC provides free legal advice to residents of British Columbia.

There are also over 100 grants for homeowners with disabilities, and the RRSP Home Buyers Plan can allow someone to withdraw $ 25,000 from a registered retirement savings plan to buy or build a new one. home for himself or for another disabled person. Although the HBP generally applies to first-time homebuyers, in cases where a person is disabled, this stipulation is waived. The Residential Access Modification Program provides a grant of up to $ 7,500 for home modifications to increase accessibility.

Mr. Malis says that despite the benefits that disabled Canadians can access, there needs to be a federal injection of money. “It’s like running a race without shoes,” he says.

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