“Providing benefits not burdens” is how former health minister Judy LaMarsh once described the vision for disability policy in Canada.
Unfortunately, this vision is not a reality when it comes to one of the main benefits open to Canadians with disability: the federal disability tax credit (DTC). Administered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the DTC is designed to recognize some of the higher costs faced by people with severe disabilities and their caregivers.
Yet reports from Autism Canada and disability groups across the country suggest CRA decisions have resulted in people diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability having their eligibility to the DTC suddenly revoked or denied, contrary to CRA rules.
This is unsettling news for families caring for children with disability, given three in four children with disability identify as having a cognitive or mental health-related disability. This issue goes beyond the credit itself, given that DTC eligibility is frequently used to access additional federal and provincial disability benefits.
We commend the announcement by Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier that a disability advisory committee will be reinstated next year.
However, the committee has its work cut out. Research tells us the DTC is already underutilized. In addition to awareness, three major barriers to accessing the DTC need to be addressed.
Firstly, the DTC is a non-refundable tax credit. Secondly, eligibility criteria have been criticized for lacking clarity, being open to interpretation, failing to accurately reflect the practicalities of living with a disability and requiring people with impairments in mental functions to meet a higher bar than for those with physical impairments.
Finally, the application process is burdensome.
The good news is that these are problems an empowered and transparent DAC can advise on. But this is a lot to take on for a committee of 12 voluntary unpaid members meeting three times a year.
It’s time the federal government started taking this seriously.
Dr. Jennifer Zwicker is an expert adviser with EvidenceNetwork.ca.