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Advocacy is a Long Road

By DDA Executive Director, Alanna Hendren

The Federal Government’s Budget 2024 included some funding for the Canada Disability Benefit Act.  The Act received Royal Assent in June 2023, but the devil was in the details included in the Budget.  The benefit provided was $2,400 per year to eligible Canadians with disabilities, aged 18 to 64, who live on low incomes. People eligible for the Disability Tax Credit are eligible for these disability payments, which will start in July 2025.  The government also included amendments to the Income Tax Act to make expenses related to service animals, alternative computer input devices like assistive keyboards and ergonomic work chairs, or special beds eligible for the Disability Supports Deduction.

The Disability Alliance of B.C. was one of the main advocacy leads from BC and they were happy to see a timeline for the enactment of the Canada Disability Benefit. However, they were disappointed that the eligibility requirements may be too stringent and the amount of funding was only $200 per month.

I can understand their disappointment but this was an incredible breakthrough and victory from my perspective.  Getting governments to change the way they do business is extremely difficult – getting governments to accept responsibility for spending money on a group of people they have never directly supported before is a major accomplishment. The money is not very much, but $2,400 per year can be a lot of money for people living below the poverty line.  And it’s a start.

In the U.S., the federal government funds all entitlements, and some states match their contributions but others don’t.  The federal government in Australia assumed total control of all disability funding, including funding for services for children and adults. They introduced a national disability tax on all Australians to pay for these support services, but the government of Canada has never been involved in paying disability benefits other than through Veteran’s Affairs, Employment Insurance, or tax deductions.  Everything concerning people with disabilities has been a provincial responsibility so far, leading to wild variations between supports offered in one province and those provided in another.

The advocacy groups that came together to lobby for the creation of this benefit only got underway after COVID, when people with disabilities received additional federal benefits just like everyone else and realized how much better they could live with more money to spend.  That’s not very much time to get legislation passed and a new benefit funded.

The families, self-advocates, and professionals who were at the heart of these efforts got the federal government to fund a new benefit in their very next budget. This is a remarkable success by any measure and they deserve our warmest congratulations. Advocates against cigarette smoking took 50 years to make any real headway. Indigenous people are still fighting for their rights and financial compensation for their land.  Childcare advocates started lobbying for $10/day childcare over 30 years ago. Institutions closed in BC only after decades of advocacy.  

Indeed, $2,400 per year is not very much money, especially for people living in Vancouver, but this is a start. The feds have stipulated that this does not absolve provinces of their responsibilities and they cannot claw back this benefit from what they are already paying. So, it is a $2,400 per year increase.

Disability advocates across Canada and the Disability Alliance of BC need to take a big victory lap for this breakthrough and improvement in the lives of people with disabilities. They have opened the door and laid the foundations for a new disability benefit that everyone can continue to build on. Persistence over the long haul is the real secret of advocacy success, so everyone needs to step up now and keep asking for their benefits to lift them out of permanent poverty.  This is not asking too much.