Canadians with physical disabilities and serious mental health issues are being denied crucial tax credits due to a change in eligibility criteria.
One Ontario mother who cares for her 16-year-old son who has ADHD and a learning disability told CBC News she had been informed by the Canada Revenue Agency she was no longer eligible for the Disability Tax Credit. As a caregiver for her son, she had relied on the tax benefit for years until she was suddenly denied last year. No explanation was given.
A man in Yellowknife with a congenital hearing defect said that, when he asked why his was denied, he was told if he were given the reason that he would simply resubmit his application with a workaround.
They are not alone.
As a newly released report by the committee reveals, the CRA rejected more than 45,000 applications in 2016-17 compared to 30,235 the year before — an increase of nearly 50 per cent.
It wasn't until Diabetes Canada and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation sounded the alarm last fall that this issue came to light. Senators studying the problem found out that many Canadians were being denied due to a change in the clarification letter — a document the CRA sends to doctors to validate patients' claims for the tax credit.
In the case of people with diabetes, the letter said that only in rare cases would a diabetic need 14 hours per week to administer insulin therapy, meaning most diabetics would not be eligible for the tax credit.
National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier has offered an apology for these "unintended consequences" faced by thousands of Canadians as a result of the clarification letter.
But we need to do better.
That is why our Disability Advisory Committee released a report, Breaking Down Barriers: A Critical Analysis of the Disability Tax Credit and the Registered Disability Savings Plan, to improve the process and make it fairer for all Canadians who are eligible for these benefits.
These federal programs are meant to provide economic supports to the 1.8 million Canadians suffering from severe disabilities who incur additional costs as a result of their disabilities that other Canadians do not, such as costs relating to medication and transportation.
Through this comprehensive study, my colleagues and I learned that both programs are failing our most vulnerable people, especially those with autism.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is the most diagnosed neurological disorder among children in Canada; one in 66 youth have autism.
Thousands of Canadians are often left in the dark as to why their applications were denied.
I was stunned to learn that applications related to mental functioning take up the lion's share of disability tax credit claims, yet our data shows they are consistently the ones that are rejected the most.
The reality of autistic Canadians is also being overlooked by the lack of proper representation on the 12-member Disability Advisory Committee, which was reinstated just last year. This volunteer committee oversees the two programs, but doesn't have representation from Canadians living with neurodevelopment disabilities, such as autism, as well as episodic disabilities, such as multiple sclerosis.
I've spent the last 10 years as a senator fighting for people with autism. To know that they and their caregivers are being disadvantaged by a system meant to protect them is very troubling.
At the top of the list of the report's 16 recommendations is a directive to the Minister of National Revenue to ensure the advisory committee better reflects the diversity of the disability communities in Canada.
Another major deficiency in the current system is that thousands of Canadians are often left in the dark as to why their applications were denied.
Even last week, Diabetes Canada federal affairs director Kimberley Hanson told a news conference that only half of the cases that were flagged for review from May to December of last year were subsequently accepted. That means thousands of Canadians have still been denied this tax credit — without an explanation.
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For the sake of transparency, Canadians applying for the tax credit should be given specific reasons why their applications are rejected.
Societies are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable citizens. We urge the federal government to act on our recommendations so that those people living with disabilities receive the support they deserve.
Senator Jim Munson is a member of the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. He represents Ontario.
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