Overall funding remains missing piece of Canada Disability Benefit Act

Initial payments not expected for 18 months

Overall funding remains missing piece of Canada Disability Benefit Act

In a significant development last week, the Canadian Parliament passed Bill C-22, paving the way for the introduction of a new multibillion-dollar initiative called the Canada Disability Benefit Act.  

The Employment Minister, Carla Qualtrough, expressed the government's commitment to swiftly work on the necessary details after the bill's approval. However, it is expected that the initial payments to individuals will commence approximately a year and a half from now. 

While the Canada Disability Act broadly outlines the promised benefit, important specifics such as the benefit amount and eligibility criteria were not explicitly defined in the legislation. To address these crucial details, government officials plan to collaborate with disability advocates, provinces, and territories to develop regulations. 

Notably, the funding for the program remains a missing piece. Although the 2023 budget allocated $21.5 million to begin work on the regulatory framework of the Canada Disability Benefit Act, the program's overall cost has yet to be publicly determined and budgeted for. 

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Qualtrough refrained from providing an exact cost estimate for the benefit. However, she stated that it will be a multibillion-dollar program annually and expressed hope for its inclusion in the 2024 federal budget. If this occurs, Qualtrough suggested that payments could potentially begin around December 2024, though she emphasized that the timeline is subject to change. 

“This will be a new permanent aspect of the Government of Canada’s social safety net,” Qualtrough said.  

The total cost of the program will depend on the final eligibility criteria, as the government is currently determining the number of low-income Canadians who may qualify. The benefit is designed to supplement existing provincial benefits, which vary considerably in size and structure, including income supports and other provisions like transit passes. 

Qualtrough acknowledged the need to address crucial questions concerning the benefit program.  

“We were not in the business of disability benefits, until now. And so we don’t necessarily have a list of Canadians with disabilities like we would have a list for seniors or children, for the Canada Child Benefit, or for the Old Age Security,” Qualtrough said.  

The initiative primarily targets low-income adults between the ages of 18 and 64 with disabilities and shares a similar design with the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for low-income seniors, complementing the Old Age Security (OAS) benefit. 

Qualtrough emphasized that this program aims to bridge the gap in support systems for working-age adults with disabilities. 

“In the disability community, people celebrate their 65th birthday, because it’s maybe the first time they’ve had financial security in their life,” said Qualtrough, referencing the age of eligibility for OAS and GIS.  

“We want people to know that we’ve got their backs through their entire life.”  

Disability advocates lauded the passage of Bill C-22 and pledged to collaborate with the government in refining the program's details.