Disability sign, white wheelchair graphic on blue background

Employment and Social Development Canada launched the public consultation process for the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) on November 15. Experts are hoping the regulations, which must be set by June 2024, will clarify the new benefit’s relationship with provincial and territorial programs, provide greater clarity in the eligibility criteria and prescribe a straightforward application process.

The benefit is intended to reduce poverty and improve financial security among working-age Canadians with disabilities by providing income on top of provincial and territorial disability programs.

The Canada Disability Benefit Act, which received royal assent in June, provides for a framework for the CDB, but key details like eligibility, benefit amount and payments are still unknown. The government is inviting Canadians to submit their views until December 21.

It’s great that the legislation received royal assent, said Lembi Buchanan, co-chair of the Disability Tax Fairness Alliance, but putting the benefit into action is going to be a “huge, huge challenge.”

Ron Malis, a financial advisor with Reegan Financial in Toronto who serves clients living with disabilities, is concerned the CDB could cause provincial and territorial disability support to be clawed back.

For example, Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipients have their benefits clawed back dollar for dollar if they also receive Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPPD) benefits, Malis explained. “That’s a real shock to people.”

He also wants to know how much CDB will increase monthly income support overall. “Is it by just a few hundred dollars after everything’s said and done? Or is it by a thousand dollars?”

Apart from compatibility with other programs, there are also concerns on eligibility. “Our problem in Canada is that we have a dozen or more different definitions of disability,” said Buchanan, who has advocated for disability tax reform since 2001.

For example, people who benefit from CPPD don’t automatically qualify for the federal Disability Tax Credit (DTC) because of differing eligibility criteria.

Buchanan said the DTC will probably be one of the “gateways” to becoming eligible for the CBD since it already has rigorous criteria. However, recipients must experience disabling effects 90% of the time, which makes it difficult for those with episodic disabilities, such as epilepsy, to qualify.

“If that’s what they decide to do, it’s going to be leaving a lot of people out in the cold,” she said.

After someone qualifies, calculating their eligible support might not be easy. Provincial and federal disability support programs have historically had convoluted rules because they’re trying to provide access and enforce eligibility at the same time, Malis said.

“We create these programs to assist [people with disabilities], and yet they are so complex when it comes to navigating them. There’s a kind of unfortunate irony in my perspective,” he said.

Buchanan said she hopes to see funds set aside for the CDB in the 2024 federal budget, even if the regulations are not yet finalized. Otherwise, it could take another fiscal year before there is money to implement the program.

“The money really needs to be in the budget, and that would impose a greater responsibility to get it right the first time around,” she said. “There are so many people who have been counting on this for so long.”