Advocates worry that the federal disability benefits program will not be fully funded in the next budget

A coalition of poverty and disability groups is calling on the federal government to fulfill its commitment to raise the incomes of all District Disability Assistance Program beneficiaries above the poverty line by fully funding the new federal disability assistance program.

Many advocates who cheered Bill C-22 are now concerned that the benefit still won’t get the funding it needs in the 2024 federal budget to make a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

Bobby Giles, who suffers from 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 special diet because he has diabetes, and a supportive church community and food banks, leaving him with little financial freedom to meet life’s basic needs and wants.

“The system is broken,” Giles said Friday at the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto’s west end. “Stable funding for people with disabilities will help reduce food bank use, which is at an all-time high… so many people are having to choose between paying rent or food.”

Bill C-22, which passed unanimously in June, was intended to lift people like Giles out of poverty by increasing provincial support funding. But funding for the program has not yet been allocated or fully designed, and many worry that the program will not get the funding it needs in this budget, which is expected to be unveiled in March or April.

Funding federal property so everyone gets enough would give them simple financial freedoms they don’t have now, Giles says. When asked what he would do if he had more money every month to improve his life, he said his dreams are small.

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

Benefit should be about $1000 per month per person: Defender

Raising the income of Disability Support beneficiaries above the poverty line would mean allocating between $10 billion and $12 billion in the federal budget, says Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread Food Bank – an organization leading the charge.

He says about 1 million people across the country depend on inadequate provincial disability benefit programs.

Toronto’s poverty line is about $2,300 a month, so if people with disabilities get less than $1,400 a month in provincial benefits, the federal increase should be closer to $1,000 a month, Hetherington says.

A meeting of advocacy organizations with the Department of Finance in December did not reassure Hetherington and his colleagues.

Hetherington says the Daily Mail and others have told Treasury staff that $10 billion to $12 billion is the number needed.

“They were able to meet our expectations. They said, ‘Listen, we’re talking about a federal deficit. We need to think about a time when interest rates are going up and the cost of servicing this debt.’ The typical comment we get about austerity.”

Neil Hetherington
Neil Hetherington, chief executive of Daily Bread Food Bank, says the National Disability Benefit will need between $10 billion and $12 billion in funding to lift people currently receiving regional disability benefits out of poverty. (Clara Pasica/CBC)

He says advocates are under the impression that people with disabilities should not expect the amount requested, and that despite all the excitement around the program, it will not be fully funded in the budget.

The federal government is tight-lipped about the numbers

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

“We cannot speculate on what may or may not be included in the next federal budget,” Katherine Koblinskas, press secretary for the finance minister, said in an email.

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

“Enhancing the financial security of Canadians with disabilities and removing barriers to their full inclusion in our communities are key pillars,” Laurent de Cazeneuve, press secretary for Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and People with Disabilities Kamal Khaira, said in a statement. From Canada’s first Disability Inclusion Action Plan and the Accessibility Canada Act.”

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

“We are focused on getting the benefit to eligible Canadians as quickly as possible,” De Casaneuve said.

The advocate says the lack of funding could be costly

Disability and anti-poverty organizations are mobilizing support from the public. As of Feb. 9, nearly 60,000 letters have been sent to politicians by Canadians supporting the call to fully fund the federal deficit benefit, according to the Daily Bread Food Bank.

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

Rabia Khader, national director of Disability Without Poverty, said that raising people with disabilities above the poverty line is the minimum. Many actually face higher costs for things like assistive devices that are not fully covered or for other needs.

She chose to remain optimistic, but is “concerned” that the government has not promoted full funding for the program in the upcoming budget.

“I think there will be a lot of disappointment and hurt,” she said. He added: “All confidence-building efforts… will be undermined by insufficient amounts. They will actually worsen the health and well-being of people, who are struggling now.”

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

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

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