Pandemic has laid bare systemic issues for people with disabilities Kieran Leavitt
Toronto Star, Oct. 3, 2020
Lene Andersen says it’s hard to feel optimistic about Ottawa’s plans for Canadians living with a disability after waiting months for emergency funding that was promised, but never came. That’s something Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough takes personally.
“It’s so unacceptable and it’s been so frustrating because of how quickly we identified this need,” said Qualtrough, adding that the government is only “weeks away” from having the money being dispensed.
“It has taken way too long, and it will not happen again,” she said during an interview with the Star this week.
Andersen, a Toronto-based author and advocate who lives with rheumatoid arthritis, is one of millions who lives with a disability in Canada and who the government had in mind when they promised emergency funding four months ago. She’s lived in a wheelchair for decades, writes a blog on her website called The Seated View, and writes books for people who are struggling with chronic illness.
In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged funding in a one time, tax-free payout of up to $600 for people holding a Disability Tax Credit certificate. At the time, he acknowledged “significant challenges” faced by people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s still not in anyone’s bank account,” Andersen said.
She’s someone who fell through the cracks of the system when the pandemic shook the country in March. She wasn’t eligible for CERB and doesn’t have support through a disability benefit because she has an income.
As a self-employed author with a disability, “I’m in that grey zone of not bad enough off that I have to apply for benefits, but not to the point where I can actually be as comfortable as I would like to be,” Andersen said.
The emergency funding is “not a huge amount, but it is certainly something that would be welcomed,” she added.
“It feels a little bit like people with disabilities are yet again the last on the list, and optional at that.”
For advocates, people with disabilities and the federal government, the pandemic has laid bare systemic issues that have been in place in the country for a long time.
Maureen Haan, president of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, says people with disabilities in Canada already live life at the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to social supports. But the pandemic has made that evident in an easy to grasp dollar amount, she said.
When the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) came, eligible Canadians could apply for $2,000 per month if their jobs were affected by the pandemic. Millions of Canadians qualified.
For people with disabilities on supportive income, in normal times, they get $1,000 per month on average, Haan said.
“So, the average person who’s contributing to society, they’re worth $2,000. But a person with a disability, they’re worth $1,000,” she said.
“When the next pandemic hits, or if there’s a huge second wave, we can’t be in the position where the federal government can’t get money to people with disabilities.”
Qualtrough acknowledged it’s been “embarrassingly hard” to effectively distribute the funding the government promised.
It comes down to not having a comprehensive list of people with disabilities, she said.
“What we knew going in, and what has really been highlighted, is we don’t have necessarily that kind of system for people with disabilities,” she said.