A federal bill to create a monthly benefit cheque for working-age Canadians with disabilities was reintroduced in the House of Commons on Thursday, but without any new details about who will qualify, how much they would get or when the money will start flowing.
The Canada Disability Benefit is to be modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement, fulfilling a promise first made by the Liberals in September 2020. Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said there are benefits for kids with disabilities and for seniors, but when people are between 19 and 64 years old, and have a disability, there is nothing extra to help.
“The harsh reality, I guess I would say, is that one in four Canadians with disabilities of working age, so 19 to 64, live below the poverty line,” she said.
That can be due to discrimination or other barriers leaving people with disabilities unemployed or underemployed, she added.
“We have a very good social safety net in Canada, but this gap was identified years ago. And we have support for children with disabilities through the Canada Child Benefit, we have support for seniors with disabilities through Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement but between 19 and 64 you’re kind of on your own and we’re changing that.
The original bill introduced almost a year ago died without passing when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an election last summer.
The new bill is identical to the original, creating the benefit in principle but leaving almost every detail on how the benefit will work to regulations that are not yet complete.
Qualtrough would not commit to a timeline for finishing the regulations, saying consultations were ongoing even as it took months for the government to bring the same bill back to the table for debate.
The regulations will outline who would be eligible, the amount of the benefit, how often it will be paid and how, and an appeals process if applications are denied.
Canada’s tax records make it easy for the government to identify people who would qualify for
Qualtrough said the government has an easier time identifying low-income seniors because they can turn to tax records to categorize people by age of income level. But there is no national record of people with disabilities, so that population is harder to target.
There is also a big concern that the benefit might interact negatively with provincial programs resulting in clawbacks on other programs, which is not the intent.
“We are committed to modelling this after the Guaranteed Income Supplement but with seniors there isn’t that complex interaction with provincial systems,” she said. “I don’t want to be creating a benefit that disentitles somebody to pharmacare from their province, or accessible transit, or disability support.”
Three weeks ago, the House of Commons agreed to a motion by NDP MP Bonita Zarrillo, the party’s critic for disability inclusion, calling on the government to bring in a disability benefit as soon as possible.
Qualtrough cited that motion Thursday when she said she expects to get all-party support to pass the bill quickly.
But Zarrillo said the government’s inaction in the last year is unacceptable.
“If they were going to table the exact same bill, they should have done it immediately after the unnecessary election,” Zarrillo said.
—Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press