Welcome to the first province/territory we will cover in this series – “Marriage Equality by Province”. You will be able to find your province/territory and see how marriage or cohabitation with a common law spouse will affect your application for provincial/territorial disability benefits.
I live in British Columbia, where I first started to understand just how much of an impact this has on Canadians. Here is what it looks like for you if you live in BC.
To apply for “PWD (Persons with Disabilities)” disability assistance, you must go through the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, and prove that you are in financial need to receive benefits. The very first requirement listed is that you must prove financial need, and then it goes on to list the physical/mental impairment and need for assistance and so forth. You then need to meet criteria regarding asset limits, including what cash is on hand and any property that can be turned into cash. Assets not included are your home, one vehicle, clothing, household equipment, and a Registered Disability Saving Plan.
It all looks normal, so what exactly constitutes “financial need” to the Ministry?
If your income is considered higher than the Annual Earnings Exemption, then you will not qualify for assistance.
The Annual Earnings Exemptions for a single disabled person is $12,000/year. (You can make up to that amount without losing any financial or medical benefits)
The Annual Earnings Exemption for a married or common law disabled person is $14,400 a year. (If you and your spouse make more than that combined, you do not qualify for financial or medical benefits)
Remember – your spouse’s income is considered your income, as well as anything else you bring in, including the CPP Disability Pension. The exemption limit does not change if you have dependants. So let’s calculate this. Say the disabled person has already gotten the Canada Pension Plan Disability Pension. The average pension is $980 a month. That is $11,760 a year. With the annual earnings exemption, this means that if your spouse makes more than $2,460 a year, you do not qualify.
$14,400(Exemption for couple or family)
– $11,760 (CPPD)
=$2,460 (Spouse’s income allowance)
Do you know anyone who supports a couple or family on that amount?
What is the poverty rate in BC? Can a couple or family survive on just over $14,400 a year?
According to the ministry’s website on poverty reduction, “The Market Basket Measure (a.k.a poverty line) for singles is approximately $20,000 a year, and for a family of four about $40,000 a year.” Again, the exemption limit of $14,400 does not change if you have dependants. The CPP Disability pension and provincial/territorial benefits are supposed to work *together* to provide a safety net if you become disabled in Canada. I do not believe this constitutes a safety net.
The Bottom Line
Income and poverty talk aside, the real issue is that disabled people are discriminated against based on their marriage/cohabitation status and their disability status.