The Emergency Response Benefit was announced today. This means most Canadian citizens will receive a $2,000 benefit per month for the next four months during this pandemic. Amazing!
We are incredibly privileged to have this in Canada. I’m sure that this will calm many stresses that people have been rightfully expressing around their finances in this time. What a relief! This is essentially a short term trial run of what a Universal Basic Income could look like. That in itself is pretty exciting.
Everyone has to work to flatten the curve and socially distance themselves right now for weeks (and probably months) until we can get ahead of this. We must obviously do whatever we can to save lives. It is also for our medical system and the people continually risking their lives working within that system. This Emergency Response Benefit makes it so Canadians can realistically self isolate now, which is vitally important.
Hearing the news this morning of the benefit brought up some complicated emotions as a disabled person in Canada. Why? Because we have to fight tooth and nail for around half of that $2,000 a month. We jump through hoop after hoop to prove our disabilities, and still then – many don’t get on disability benefits. Many become homeless. Many have their health deteriorate as they fight to work because their disability is not deemed severe enough, and because of this, they end up with significantly more severe disabilities. (Pushing our bodies IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA, PEOPLE!)
This Emergency Response Benefit will be $2,000 a month in the short term, for the next four months. But if my partner makes that, I don’t qualify for provincial disability benefits. In fact, if my partner makes more than $415 a month, I don’t qualify because that means that we make more than $1,200 a month combined. And if we make more than $1,200 a month combined, the province says that we make too much money and don’t need help. For a family of three. To give you a sense of the cost of living, our 600 square foot home is $1,080 a month, not including utilities, rent controlled. And I pay hundreds in medications and medical travel every month. Oh, yeah, and we have to eat.
#AccessbilityForAbleds is sad and frustrating because by giving everyone $2,000 a month, they confirm that that is indeed a liveable wage. They confirm that is the minimum, just above the poverty line, to keep people relatively healthy and safe with enough food in their bellies and a roof over their heads. To cover the minimum costs of living in Canada.
But disabled people get between $700 to $1,000 a month, and people don’t always get provincial benefits on top of that. If they do, it totals around $1,200 a month. They force us to be dependent on our families and/or spouses, if we are lucky enough to have those people. They literally force us into poverty and make it illegal to save money.
I was extremely lucky because I received the CPP Disability Pension on my first try. Everyone I went to for advice, from lawyers to others on the pension, told me not to expect it on the first try. My career pre-illness had been in administration – it had been my job to fill out boring paperwork thoroughly while making sense of it. I have a lot of experience there. And even with that, it took me a month to fill everything out, because I had to get all of the documentation about my health history in the process. I had 6 letters from my health care team, including my pain specialists, doctors, a physiotherapist, and an occupational therapist. All writing detailed letters about my health. Plus, information on all of the past surgeries, meds, mobility aids – you get the idea. It was about 90 pages in length. And if you are one of the lucky few who qualify? You start getting benefits about 6 months later – so hope you can live without income for 6 months!
I am not advocating for reform in this process necessarily, and certainly not right now given the times, but I want the reader to understand the length of the process. I understand that yes, obviously, you need to prove your needs to an extent. But this is why I say “we fight tooth and nail for benefits”.
My CPP-D is $740 a month after tax. Can you live on $740 a month? No. In fact, because of the job loss due to this pandemic, the ableds in Canada got very upset at the fact that they will all have to live on EI and complained about it. Because who could possibly live off of 55% of their wages? They think it is their right to get a living wage during this time in our country. And yes, it is. But what about the rights of disabled people to get a living wage? All the time? Pandemic or not?
I understand that it is a big issue for people to lose their income, their stability. It is scary, and it hurts. I’ve been there, and went down a lot more than 55%.
It sure feels like we disabled in Canada don’t have the same rights as others, and indeed in reality we don’t, despite there being the Human Rights Act, Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Accessible Canada Act.
The government quickly came to streamlining the process of EI and the Emergency Response Benefit so that by early April the public will be able to apply for these benefits. It is no small feat. This means that most Canadians won’t have to dive into their savings (if they are the lucky 47% who have savings) to pay for a long waiting period before benefits come through. It means that these people can survive and maybe have less creature comforts than they are used to, but live above the poverty line. Let’s take a moment to pause and appreciate all of the people in government working their asses off right now to pull this off
Now – imagine a world where disability is not a poverty sentence. Imagine a world where disabled people too could get a little over the poverty line in benefits, enough for homes and food. Why does Canada so easily acquiesce to the ableds complaining about how their EI benefits aren’t a liveable wage? We have been saying the same thing for years – and our benefits are much lower than most people’s 55% of their wage. Not to mention we literally aren’t allowed to save money either (not that anyone could possibly save money on disability in this country).
Why is this happening for the abled population, and not us?
Why are we not treated with the same dignity and respect?
I doubt I’ll qualify for the $2,000 a month benefit, and chances are neither will you if you are on disability right now. There hasn’t been any mention for disability benefit related help yet in this federal aid package, and honestly with Canada’s track record, I don’t expect that we will get one. They already expect us to live on our under-the-poverty-line pensions, so what would change for us now? It is a myth that people on disability pensions don’t work, when in fact, most of us are forced to work even though our health can’t sustain it. Most have part time incomes, a few extra hundred bucks a month that can go a long way. We have lost those part time jobs now, so I am very curious to hear if those of us with these jobs to supplement disability benefits will indeed qualify for $2,000 a month benefit like everyone else during the coming four months.
Canada’s institutionalized ableism is showing.
Please don’t kid yourself, Canada, you have the reputation of being nice and sweet, but you really don’t take care for your disabled people. We all know it. It is an open secret. (But we have Terry Fox day once a year where we teach kids the lessons of inspiration porn? That should be enough, right? We should be happy with that? Canada cares?)
Okay – I am going to show how Canadian I am and apologize for the snark in the last paragraph. It comes from the frustration of disabled people when Canadians have this false idea that we take care of everyone equally. We don’t. (I mean, you can ask any indigenous person their opinion on that but that’s another post. )
There is no real information yet on whether or not disabled Canadians will get this Emergency Response Benefit. If we do? It is much needed. There is no reason why we shouldn’t get it if everyone else does. If we don’t? Well the only silver lining for me personally is that I will probably get even more fired up to fight for equality for disabled Canadians.
We have bigger problems to deal with right now – everyone needs to stay home and help our communities and medical workers by stopping the spread of this virus as fast as we can. But after the dust settles, when we come out of this on the other end, we’ll need to have a serious talk, Canada.