How the Government is Lending a Helping Hand to People with Disabilities during the Pandemic
COVID-19 has brought on numerous challenges to everyone across the board, but even more so for people with disabilities. According to Marie-Claude Landry, chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, while COVID-19 has widened the circle of vulnerable people in the country, the government still needs to work on providing people with disabilities the support they need as this global crisis lingers on.
Back in the fall, the government did provide a one-time payment of up to $600 to people with disabilities, which is non-taxable and non-reportable in recognition of the unexpected expenses incurred by persons with disabilities during the pandemic. The payment is in complement to other emergency supports, such as the one-time special payment through the Goods and Services Tax Credit and the one-time payment to seniors. Those with a valid Disability Tax Credit (DTC) certificate from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or at least have applied by December 31, 2020 are eligible for this one-time payment.
However, Rehabilitation Services and Vocational Assistance Program Jewelles Smith, past chairperson of the Council for Canadians with Disabilities, said many people won’t qualify for the benefit, adding that the amount isn’t enough to offset the extra costs incurred by people with disabilities.
Some of the add-on expenses since the pandemic began incurred by people with disabilities include extra cleaning expenses, delivery services, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
It also hasn’t helped that the majority of them have had reduced income. Those who continue to work onsite also face several barriers in their respective work environments due with businesses and offices struggling to comply with physical distancing rules.
In British Columbia, those who work in the frontline have had an opportunity to work more hours and thus get more pay, but this has worked against them. A single person-household receiving disability assistance can get up to $1,183.42 a month from the provincial government, but it’s an amount that is below B.C.’s poverty line, and so a majority of them supplement this income by working. And this is where it gets tricky. If they earn more than the limit of $12,000 a year, their income is reduced dollar for dollar.
Furthermore, just this mid-December, the B.C. government has decided to cut the monthly COVID-19 financial assistance for people with disabilities, as well as seniors and people on lower incomes as part of new legislation.
Back in April, the B.C. government provided a $300 supplement to those who weren’t eligible for the emergency federal support and those who did not receive income or disability assistance. Now, in January, February, and March, the $300 supplemental income will be cut in half and removed entirely by April. It’s understandable why the B.C. government found themselves in hot water.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insists that the federal government is doing the best it can to fulfill the needs of people with disabilities during these challenging times. In his statement to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Trudeau emphasizes that people with disabilities have a greater need during these times and that they will continuously work to achieve disability inclusion by creating communities, spaces, services, and supports that allow everyone to fully and equally participate in society.
Trudeau also shared that they are helping to improve workplace accessibility and access to jobs by investing $15 million to create a National Workplace Accessibility Stream as part of the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities. In addition, the federal government invested another $65 million in the Opportunities Fund in 2021-22, which will further support training and career advancement for persons with disabilities.
Now, will these efforts be sufficient to truly fulfill the needs of people with disabilities? Time will tell.