Canada’s auditor general has joined a growing chorus of Indigenous advocates and economists who have urged the government for years to think beyond the current income tax system to get benefits into the hands of First Nations families.
The most recent figures show only 79% of eligible families on First Nations accessed the Canada Child Benefit in 2017 compared to 97% of the general population.
Auditor general Karen Hogan says one of the key challenges is that filing a federal income tax return is a mandatory step in the accessing the benefit.
She says the government should consider more a creative approach to getting the money into the hands of people who live in First Nations who are entitled to the benefits.
First Nations Child and Family Caring Society executive director Cindy Blackstock says there are many reasons people may not fill out their income fax returns, from principled stands against colonialization and lack of trust in government to lower literacy stemming from poorly funded public services.
Public sector economist Ross Hickey says there are several options the government could consider to encourage people to fill out their income tax forms, automate the process or circumvent it entirely while maintaining the integrity of the program.