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Feds 'committed to doing more,' but minister offers no timeline for Canadian Disability Benefit boost

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Amid significant criticism from advocates, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister Kamal Khera is defending her government’s long-promised, newly unveiled Canada Disability Benefit, calling the funds an “initial step,” but without laying out a timeline for future expansion of the program.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Khera insisted to host Vassy Kapelos it’s important to “recognize” the significance of her government creating a national benefit for persons with disabilities in the first place.

“We recognize there's more to do,” she said. “This is an initial step that we’ve put forward, and absolutely, we are committed to doing more.”

The federal government revealed details of the benefit in its latest budget last month, after promising the program nearly four years ago and pitching it as a tool to lift persons with disabilities out of poverty, akin to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors.

But earmarked in the budget is a maximum of $2,400 a year ­— $200 a month, which is about $6.66 a day — to eligible applicants, drawing widespread criticism from disability advocates, who say it’s not nearly enough to do what it promised.

Forty-one per cent of low-income Canadians live with a disability and 16.5 per cent of the people with a disability in Canada live in poverty, according to Disability Without Poverty. Reacting to the budget, the group's national director Rabia Khedr said this benefit was supposed to "offer real hope," but has instead fallen well short.

"Reaction from the disability community has been unanimous that this initial investment creates little impact for removing people with disabilities from poverty," reads an April joint statement from the National Disability Network. "It simply is not enough."

Groups are also concerned about the threshold for eligibility as outlined in the budget, warning that it will only cover fewer than half of those currently receiving disability income support.

“Using the (Disability Tax Credit) as the only access point for the Canada Disability Benefit is concerning," said Len Baker, president and CEO of March of Dimes Canada, in a separate release. "Asking people with disabilities to jump through additional hoops to access financial security benefits they’re entitled to is harmful and traumatizing."

The disability benefit is relatively small in comparison to other federal programs such as the Canada Child Benefit, at $620 a month, or the Guaranteed Income Supplement, at more than $1,000 a month.

When pressed on the differences, Khera repeated that the allocated funds are an “initial step,” which are eventually “meant to grow,” and pointed to negotiations with the provinces and territories to ensure they don’t claw back benefits in their own jurisdictions.

While the federal government has vowed to work with provinces and territories on getting a cross-Canada agreement to exempt the federal benefit from counting as income in relation to qualifying for other supports, those assurances have yet to be secured.

“My biggest priority right now is to make sure we're working with provinces and territories,” Khera said. “And we made it very clear to them that we expect them to make sure that there are no claw backs with the other provincial benefits that individuals with disabilities get.

“This benefit is intended to be a supplement, it is not a replacement,” she added, but when asked whether potential issues with the provinces and territories influenced the dollar amount or timing of the benefit, Khera didn’t directly say.

“We are a progressive government that has been there to support — whether it is through the Canada Child Benefit, the supports for seniors, through the Canada Workers Benefit — to really create this social safety net,” she said. “We are a government that, for the first time ever, put together and passed legislation for a national Canada Disability Benefit.”

Khera insisted the federal government is “committed” to doing more in the future with the Canada Disability Benefit, but despite being asked multiple times what any expansion may look like, or when the Liberals plan to roll it out, the minister wouldn’t say.

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello

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