Tuesday’s federal budget laid the groundwork for a national disability benefit but the funding falls well short of what advocates were seeking.

The government passed legislation last year, Bill C-22, to introduce the national benefit, which is meant to lift people out of poverty by topping up provincial support funding.

The budget has allocated $6.1 billion over six years toward the new disability benefit, with payments set to begin rolling out in July of next year. The maximum benefit for low-income Canadians with disabilities would be $200 per month, the budget says.

But advocates say the budget commitment doesn’t cover enough Canadians and won’t lift those it does cover out of poverty.

Rabia Khedr, national director of the advocacy group Disability Without Poverty, said she was “disappointed” for all those who have been waiting since C-22 passed in June.

“I’m heartbroken for the people that were waiting with hope,” she said.

Khedr estimates that roughly 1.6 million Canadians with disabilities are living below the poverty line. But Tuesday’s budget says only 600,000 would be eligible for the new national benefit.

“The amount is not adequate. Unfortunately, there’s going to be little money for very few people,” she said.

Neil Hetherington, CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank, said those who do qualify for the benefit will still be living below the poverty line. (Pelin Sidki/CBC)

Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread Food Bank — an organization that has been advocating for the benefit — echoed Khedr’s point.

“I think many in the communities feel that they have been left behind,” he said.

Hetherington suggested that an extra $200 a month for those who do qualify will still leave them hundreds of dollars below the poverty line.

“The average person on disability gets about $1,300 a month. The poverty line is $2,300. So that means at that point they’re only — and I’d say this with a bit of facetiousness — they are only $800 below the poverty line, for individuals who have a higher cost of living,” he said.

Khedr also questioned how much help the benefit will provide to those who qualify.

“It’s maybe going to give them a little more money to buy food, put toward their rent. But they’re still going to be living in significant levels of poverty,” she said.

A woman looks and listens to someone speaking off screen.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland participates in a TV interview after tabling the federal budget on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said her party would not be supporting the budget, citing the disability benefit as one of her concerns and accusing the Liberals of playing “checkbox politics.”

“We called for an end to legislative poverty for people with disabilities. That’s not in here,” she said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh — who is in a confidence and supply agreement with the Liberals — said he has concerns about the budget, including the disability benefit. Singh said he wants to hear from Trudeau about those concerns before declaring his support for the budget.

“What’s the plan to address the fact that $200 a month for people living with disabilities is insufficient? What is the plan to address those concerns? I want to hear that from the prime minister before we make a decision,” Singh told reporters on Tuesday.

Both Khedr and Hetherington said they see Tuesday’s announcement as a first step and hope the government can be convinced to do more.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to have to keep working and working harder to address disability poverty in this country,” Khedr said.

“You have a million Canadians who have been promised one thing legislatively and are deeply concerned that this is the end of the conversation,” Hetherington said.

“I hope that that is not the case and we’re certainly going to work to make sure that it’s not the end.” 

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