I shook my head in disbelief as I read about changes to the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) program impacting some of the country's most vulnerable — tighter eligibility criteria are causing individuals living with physical and mental disabilities to be denied benefits they need.
I understand this struggle all too well.
My son had a traumatic birth and experienced loss of circulation and oxygen to the brain. He was provided a clean bill of health, and we believed the worst was behind us. It was only the beginning.
We watched as he hit and missed many milestones in the first years of his life, and eagerly waited for his speech to come. He was nearly three when he stumbled on the floor and I, as always, asked, "Are you OK?" This would typically be met with silence, but that evening he said "I OK!" We burst into tears. I truly did not understand how much I longed to hear my child speak until I heard his voice for the very first time.
Three years of knowing him, three years of loving him more than anything else, and three years he made me wait. We spent that time engaged in alternating rounds of private and government-funded speech therapy. This was what was recommended to us. I lived and breathed speech therapy; we spent thousands every year in programs that seemed to be doing very little. But we didn't stop. We needed to do something.
Somewhere between 2011 and 2012, a medical professional concluded he had moderate hearing loss — likely since birth. How doesn't a mother know her child can't hear? The guilt continues to eat away at me.
Having access to the DTC was a small comfort at the time.
After surgeries to restore his hearing, his speech started to get better, but he still showed signs of behavioral issues. We tried food interventions, vitamin therapies, drug therapy, occupational therapy and visual therapy — all with a price tag well into the thousands of dollars. This was our life until 2016.
Finally, we took him to the U.S. to obtain a full brain function assessment — again, out of pocket. We discovered that, at nearly seven years old, he had the brain development of a three-year-old. He could barely read, communicated poorly and continued to struggle in social settings compared to other kids his age.
We had a choice to make: either move to Michigan for the six to nine months it would take to complete a treatment program, or I'd quit my job, again, and work through a modified at-home program. We chose the second option.
The tax credit means more than money
Having access to the DTC was a small comfort at the time. We knew that once a year we'd receive some "benefit" to reinvest in our efforts to support him, and were fortunate to be able to supplement the government-funded programs with our own money. During this time I shared my tax advice with many parents looking for access to resources, and directed many to the DTC program.
Did I sell them false hope that now is being stripped away?
Our family will not meet the eligibility criteria for a successful re-approval after the current term expires. We accept that. But for us, the story has a happy ending — we don't need long-term planning to support our son after eight years of successful treatment.
For many others, this is not the case.
We cannot sit by idly while the government creates cash flow by taking support away from those who should remain eligible within the program.
An individual who has a mental impairment on record for 20 years, now an adult, should not be removed from the program simply because they are now able to bathe themselves. They may still be unable to secure gainful employment and live independently from their caregivers. Yet being physically able to perform self-care tasks may cause them to not meet the new eligibility criteria, stripping away not only access to the DTC but also the CRA contributions to their RDSP portfolio.
My advice to anyone looking for support: do not be discouraged from applying for the DTC, even if it seems more difficult than ever to be approved. With supporting evidence in hand and a firm belief of the merit of the impairments, you must persist. If you are rejected, try again. Appeal. Object. Take it to the Tax Court of Canada if you must. You are deserving. Do not stop at the first "no."
It's the difference between being able to be proactive in treatment versus "wait and see."
Access to the Disability Tax Credit program is not a cash grab or "free money." Families like ours sacrifice more money, time, resources and sleep than most could imagine.
Receiving DTC is the possibility of trying a new therapy. It's the possibility of not having to choose between paying a bill and purchasing new equipment or resources. It's the difference between being able to be proactive in treatment versus "wait and see."
It's the government saying they know you worry about where your loved ones will be after you're gone, and they worry, too.
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If you are or expect to be affected by a loss of RDSP contributions, speak with your financial advisors about your long-term financial support plans and ensure you create a plan to supplement any losses. File your applications, ask your local MPs to lobby for the rights of ALL individuals with disabilities, and urge the Minister of Finance to answer the following questions:
- Why are the vulnerable continuously being placed at risk?
- What is the joint plan that the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health have created to provide not only quality treatment, but also potential long-term care for individuals who may potentially lose support?
- What plan is being created to stimulate and encourage the hiring of individuals with mental impairments?
I was once told that "no one will ever be a greater advocate for your child than you," and it's always held true. I share this with you in the spirit of those who shared it with me, to keep moving forward and never let a situation, person or even the government stop you from receiving what you deserve.
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