Promised funds for dis­abled still haven’t ar­rived

Pan­demic has laid bare sys­temic is­sues for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties

Toronto Star - - NEWS - KIERAN LEAVITT STAFF REPORTER

Lene An­der­sen says it’s hard to feel op­ti­mistic about Ottawa’s plans for Cana­di­ans liv­ing with a dis­abil­ity af­ter wait­ing months for emer­gency fund­ing that was promised, but never came. That’s some­thing Em­ploy­ment Min­is­ter Carla Qual­trough takes per­son­ally.

“It’s so un­ac­cept­able and it’s been so frus­trat­ing be­cause of how quickly we iden­ti­fied this need,” said Qual­trough, adding that the gov­ern­ment is only “weeks away” from hav­ing the money be­ing dis­pensed.

“It has taken way too long, and it will not hap­pen again,” she said dur­ing an in­ter­view with the Star this week.

An­der­sen, a Toronto-based au­thor and ad­vo­cate who lives with rheuma­toid arthri­tis, is one of mil­lions who lives with a dis­abil­ity in Canada and who the gov­ern­ment had in mind when they promised emer­gency fund­ing four months ago. She’s lived in a wheel­chair for decades, writes a blog on her web­site called The Seated View, and writes books for peo­ple who are strug­gling with chronic ill­ness.

In June, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau pledged fund­ing in a one time, tax-free pay­out of up to $600 for peo­ple hold­ing a Dis­abil­ity Tax Credit cer­tifi­cate. At the time, he ac­knowl­edged “sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges” faced by peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic.

“That’s still not in any­one’s bank ac­count,” An­der­sen said.

She’s some­one who fell through the cracks of the sys­tem when the pan­demic shook the coun­try in March. She wasn’t el­i­gi­ble for CERB and doesn’t have sup­port through a dis­abil­ity ben­e­fit be­cause she has an in­come.

As a self-em­ployed au­thor with a dis­abil­ity, “I’m in that grey zone of not bad enough off that I have to ap­ply for ben­e­fits, but not to the point where I can ac­tu­ally be as com­fort­able as I would like to be,” An­der­sen said.

The emer­gency fund­ing is “not a huge amount, but it is cer­tainly some­thing that would be wel­comed,” she added.

“It feels a lit­tle bit like peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are yet again the last on the list, and op­tional at that.”

For ad­vo­cates, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, the pan­demic has laid bare sys­temic is­sues that have been in place in the coun­try for a long time.

Mau­reen Haan, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Coun­cil on Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and Work, says peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in Canada al­ready live life at the lower end of the spec­trum when it comes to so­cial sup­ports. But the pan­demic has made that ev­i­dent in an easy to grasp dol­lar amount, she said.

When the Canada Emer­gency Re­sponse Ben­e­fit (CERB) came, el­i­gi­ble Cana­di­ans could ap­ply for $2,000 per month if their jobs were af­fected by the pan­demic. Mil­lions of Cana­di­ans qual­i­fied.

For peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties on sup­port­ive in­come, in nor­mal times, they get $1,000 per month on av­er­age, Haan said.

“So, the av­er­age per­son who’s con­tribut­ing to so­ci­ety, they’re worth $2,000. But a per­son with a dis­abil­ity, they’re worth $1,000,” she said.

“When the next pan­demic hits, or if there’s a huge sec­ond wave, we can’t be in the po­si­tion where the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can’t get money to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.”

Qual­trough ac­knowl­edged it’s been “em­bar­rass­ingly hard” to ef­fec­tively dis­trib­ute the fund­ing the gov­ern­ment promised.

It comes down to not hav­ing a com­pre­hen­sive list of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, she said.

“What we knew go­ing in, and what has re­ally been high­lighted, is we don’t have nec­es­sar­ily that kind of sys­tem for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties,” she said.

Em­ploy­ment and dis­abil­ity min­is­ter Carla Qual­trough said fund­ing de­lay is un­ac­cept­able.

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