By Kristi Fairholm Mader
Sarah and Jessie meet their son, Joe, for brunch every Sunday. After brunch, they walk him home, stopping by the grocery store to pick up some food for dinner. They talk about their upcoming vacation on a cruise together and the souveniers Joe hopes he can get. As they drop him off, Jessie gives Joe some cash so he can go see a movie later on with some friends. All of this is done in secret.
Joe has a disability and receives provincial social assistance. The amount he receives is barely enough to survive on and his parents help out when they can. However, for those receiving provincial government assistance, no one, not even family, is permitted to help financially or ‘in-kind’. This means that many Canadian parents are not permitted to provide for their sons and daughters with disabilities. The consequence is that provincial and territorial governments will deduct this assistance dollar for dollar from disability or social assistance support.
Last week, PLAN conducted an anonymous survey asking families to share how they are helping, or would like to help, their son or daughter, and aren’t supposed to. We had 110 responses within 24 hours.
The responses are what you would expect—parents are helping their children the way that parents help their children: paying rent, going out for dinner, vacations, gift cards, buying groceries, gifting a car, and so on. The difference is their fear; fear that this assistance will be found out, reported and jeopardize necessary government supports.
Here are a few voices from the survey:
My daughter’s father is illegally helping with money (325) that he deposits monthly into an account. It is easily spent every month to cover basics (food, clothes, sports fees, entertainment). I do live in fear that it will somehow be discovered and either she or I will be penalized.
We cannot give our son very much money without it being deducted from his ODSP. It prevents him from living in a decent place and eating healthy foods. We would like to be able to give him more financial support.
My 23 year old son lives at home. We use some of his allowance for expenses but we support him with many extras. I do not report any of it or try to write anything off.
I would like to feel free to provide financial support such as paying for extras, such as sports equipment, clothes, food and fees for her Special Olympics sports without feeling that I am somehow doing so illegally.
… I would like to buy them a house where they could live with another person or more but disability will not allow them to collect any rent without being penalized on their disability payments. I would like them to be able to benefit from the TFSA but they cannot accumulate assets. I would like to buy some stocks for them but that would penalize them.
And over a hundred more similar responses.
Families want to contribute to their sons and daughters well-being. Families cannot carry the entire financial cost, but in an era of fiscal restraint, it seems counter-productive to deny the assistance and contributions of the people who have the most invested— parents and families. The recommendation is simple: exempt family contributions from provincial/ territorial disability assistance eligibility.