‘Very little, for very few’: Brampton MP defends Liberal disability benefit as advocate calls out spending

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Published June 13, 2024 at 4:44 pm

Brampton MP defends Liberal disability benefit as advocate calls out spending
Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister Kamal Khera talks to media in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. An advocacy group for people with disabilities says the federal government set aside very little money to fund a new benefit designed to lift people with disabilities out of poverty, despite the minister's claim that it is the biggest line item in the budget. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

An advocacy group for people with disabilities says the federal government has set aside very little money for a new benefit, and takes issue with a Brampton Liberal minister’s claim that it is the biggest line item in the budget.

The government has budgeted $4.8 billion over five years toward the new program, which will provide a maximum of $200 per month to low-income people with disabilities.

Last week, the government released data showing the program is expected to lift 25,000 people out of poverty — far short of the hundreds of thousands the Liberals promised to help.

“It’s very little, for very few,” said Rabia Khedr, director of Disability Without Poverty.

Brampton MP and minister for people with disabilities Kamal Khera has defended the program by boasting about how much money the government has put toward it.

“In this particular budget, we got the single largest line item in this budget,” Khera said at a press conference in Brampton last week.

It’s a line Khera has repeated several times since the budget was tabled in April, but it’s not true.

The government set aside $7.2 billion over five years to implement the Clean Electricity Investment Tax Credit in the same budget, though a portion of those funds was announced in an earlier economic statement.

Overall the 2024 budget lays out $52.9 billion in new spending over five years. That includes $8.1 billion in new defence spending.

Asked about the discrepancy, Khera’s office clarified in a statement that it is the largest line item for a new program in the 2024 budget — and noted the defence spending “is not specifically earmarked as a single item.”

A spokesman did not respond to a question about why the minister continues to say it is the largest line item, without clarifying that she is talking only about new programs in the budget.

Regardless, Khedr said the annual spending falls far short of other programs like the Canada Child Benefit and the guaranteed income supplement for seniors.

“We are barely scratching the surface with this so-called biggest line item,” Khedr said in an interview Thursday.

“All I can tell you is that disabled people are sick and tired of bearing the burden of politics. We believe there was a genuine commitment to the promise, because there was a genuine recognition of the crisis, and somehow that priority shifted.”

Bonita Zarrillo, the NDP critic for people with disabilities, said the government is out of step with the spirit of the law that underpins the benefit.

“They have not listened to Canadians. They have not followed their own promises,” Zarrillo said at a press conference Thursday.

“There was a lot of trust in the government. The government asked for that trust, they received it from the disability community. The government has broken that trust.”

The New Democrats threatened to pull their support from the minority Liberal government over the paltry benefit offered to people with disabilities, but ultimately decided to support the budget.

Instead, the NDP’s Laurel Collins tabled a private member’s bill Thursday that would make it easier for people to access the disability tax credit, the disability benefit and other federal programs if they already have access to provincial disability programs.

“It means that redundancy would be eliminated and it means that more people could access the benefits that they deserve,” Collins said.

There is no telling how much the cost of those programs would increase in the unlikely event that the bill passes.

Payments under the disability benefit are expected to begin in July 2025.

The government estimates the benefit will improve the “financial well-being” of more than 600,000 low-income people with disabilities.

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