Over the past few weeks we’ve begun to see announcements about COVID-related benefits being offered by provinces, territories and the federal government. These programs, aimed at providing financial security during this uncertain time, are a welcome source of support. Most of these programs focus on replacing lost employment income and providing additional support to families with children. 

We know that COVID has also created unique hardships for people with an intellectual disability, their families and supporters. That’s why we’re working with the federal government to push for the introduction of benefits that will address these unique needs and make sure that the programs being offered now take people with a disability into consideration.

There are several excellent online resources that explain the programs currently being offered and their eligibility requirements, including this summary created by Jennifer Robson, Associate Professor of Political Management at Carleton University.

Instead of creating another summary of existing programs, we want to highlight some of the benefits that are already available to people with a disability and some of the ideas we’re working on to make federal programs more responsive to the needs of people with an intellectual disability and their families. This is not a complete list of everything we’re working on but is meant to give you some highlights. 

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is a $2,000 a month federal benefit paid for up to 16 weeks. It is intended to support workers who have had to stop working because of COVID. To qualify, people must have earned at least $5,000 in employment income in 2019 or in the 12 months before they apply. They must also be without employment income for at least 14 days in a row. 

The CERB program will open for applications on April 6th and is available to people with a disability and their family members who meet the eligibility criteria. People with a disability who have had to stop their paid work because of COVID but who are still receiving provincial income assistance can qualify and are encouraged to apply. The federal government has acknowledged that policies in some provinces require income assistance payments to be adjusted (clawed-back) when someone begins receiving a federal benefit. They are working with the provincial governments to address those issues. 

What we’re recommending

We know the $5,000 income requirement will be a barrier for many people with disabilities and their caregivers. We’re asking the federal government to expand the eligibility criteria to make sure that people with a disability and their parents/caregivers can qualify for this benefit. One solution we’re suggesting is allowing people who confirm that they already receive benefits from a federal or provincial disability-related program (like the Disability Tax Credit, Registered Disability Savings Plan, or long-term social assistance) to qualify, without meeting the $5,000 minimum. 

We’re also recommending that the federal government offer a disability-related top-up to the CERB to offset the additional cost of living with – or raising a child with – a disability during the COVID pandemic.

Canada Child Benefit and Goods & Services Tax Credit

The federal government has announced that they will increase the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) by an extra $300 per child in May. Families who already receive the CCB don’t need to re-apply, they will get the increased payment automatically. The federal government is also providing a one-time special payment through the Goods and Services Tax (GST) credit for low and modest-income families. Families of people with a disability may be eligible and benefit from one, or both, of these programs. 

These are great initiatives and we’re encouraging the federal government to go a step further by introducing additional benefits to assist people with a disability and their families. 

What we’re recommending

Modify the Employment Insurance (EI) Caregiver Benefit

Right now, this benefit is available to caregivers supporting someone who is critically ill or injured or who requires end-of-life care. This could be expanded to be include caregivers who are supporting people with a disability during COVID. 

Enhance (and rename) the Child Disability Benefit

Another way of getting money into the hands of families is by enhancing the Child Disability Benefit. We’re suggesting that the benefit be adjusted to include people up to age 30 and people in more moderate-income families. 

Allow one-time early RDSP withdrawals

There are around 168,000 people in Canada with a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). These plans are intended for long-term savings and have strict rules about when money can be taken out, including money received from government grants and bonds. We’re asking the federal government to consider allowing people to make a one-time early withdrawal from their RDSP. This money could be used in whatever way they need during the COVID pandemic. 

Offer accessible information and support

We’re also reminding the government about how important it is to make sure that all information about government benefits and community supports is available in accessible formats. Information must be shared in ways that will reach people with disabilities and their families who may be isolated or disconnected. 

We’re asking the federal government to work with the provincial governments and disability groups to make sure that people with a disability and their families receive the information, support and flexibility they need during this emergency. 

We’d like to encourage you to continue following our COVIDdisability: Disability-Related Resources for Families webpage for updates and share helpful resources you find using the hashtag #COVIDdisability. 

Read the second post in our COVID Resources series, “Defending Rights – COVID-19 and Disability Discrimination.”