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Using tax system for social benefits a ‘sticking point’ for dental benefit: experts

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OTTAWA — Economic and public policy experts warn the proposed federal dental benefit may not reach the families most in need because the government has chosen to distribute it through the tax system.

The federal government plans to send cheques of up to $650 to qualifying low- and medium-income households to help pay for children’s dental needs through the same platform used for Canada Child Benefit payments.

That is run through the Canada Revenue Agency, which the experts suggest could be a problem because many low-income families are less likely to file tax returns.

That means they face barriers to accessing the Canada Child Benefit payments and could encounter similar roadblocks when it comes to getting the new dental benefit.

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“Low-income people, homeless people, people on social assistance — all of these groups of people have really low tax filing rates and low take-ups of benefits that are already out there like the Canada Child Benefit,” said Gillian Petit, an economist and research associate at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.

“Pushing out the dental benefit using the same platform is going to run into a lot of the same issues.”

The same is true for those who do not speak English or French, she said, citing the onerous and daunting administrative work as a potential factor. She said this will likely also be the case for the proposed dental benefit.

The Canada Revenue Agency plans to use past tax returns to determine if families meet the income criteria and confirm that they have a child under the age of 12. After that, families will need to attest that they do not have private dental insurance and that they have out-of-pocket dental expenses. They will also have to provide their dentist’s contact information and the approximate date of their child’s appointment and keep their receipts in case they are audited.

“It’s just a lot of paperwork and time,” Petit said.

Jennifer Robson, an associate professor and program director of political management at Carleton University, says about 10.5 per cent of adults with children under the age of 18 don’t file a tax return, and those families tend to be below the poverty line.

“Intuitively, those are an awful lot of people who are probably financially vulnerable and less likely to have access to dental insurance,” said Robson.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, has previously spoken about how there are also many reasons Indigenous Peoples may not fill out their income tax returns, from principled stands against colonization and lack of trust in government to lower literacy stemming from poorly funded public services.

She made the comments in June, when auditor general Karen Hogan found the government was not doing enough to make sure income-tested supports like the child benefit get to hard-to-reach populations like those living on reserves, despite spending tens of millions of dollars on outreach.

The dental benefit is a key element of the supply and confidence agreement struck between the Liberals and the NDP, which stipulates that the government has until the end of the year to offer dental care to children under the age of 12 with a household income under $90,000.

This newbenefit is therefore meant to be an interim measure while the federal government works on a more complete dental-care plan.

“This is what you get when you rush policy because you have an artificial deadline,” Robson said. “You cobble something together because a better delivery mechanism would take an awful lot more time to develop.”

In a joint statement, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said children shouldn’t have to wait to access the care that they need.

“The Canada Revenue Agency has the resources to quickly deliver this interim program due to its extensive infrastructure, long-standing experience in providing services to Canadians and outreach work within communities to help Canadians navigate the tax and benefit system,” they said in the written statement sent Tuesday.

The ministers urged potentially eligible parents to sign up for a CRA account and make sure they filed their 2021 tax returns.

Robson disagrees. She said the tax-collection agency is designed to do just that — collect taxes — and is not equipped to distribute social benefits.

“The government learned during the pandemic that CRA is pretty good at cutting cheques to a lot of people,” she said. “I don’t think that we have come to grips with what that comes along with.”

The Liberal government’s dental-care legislation is still awaiting a second-reading vote in the House of Commons, but is expected to pass with support from the NDP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Afghan refugees: Government delays increasing financial pressure – CTV News

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Refugee advocates are raising concerns that Afghan refugees granted asylum in Canada are being burdened by escalating costs stemming from the government’s delay in processing their claims.

Before they board their flight to Canada, all refugees are required to sign a loan agreement to pay back the cost of their transportation and pre-arrival expenses which can include hotel stays.

Some Afghans identified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as eligible for resettlement have been waiting months for exit permits while living in hotels arranged by the government. The hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their debt.

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The Canadian Council for Refugees says Afghans are being forced to pay for an inefficient bureaucracy.

“It seems like the Canadian government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of people,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees. Hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their government debt.

Dench says refugees have no choice but to accept a “legally dubious” contract that doesn’t stipulate a precise loan amount.

“If they want a permanent home they have to sign on to whatever the terms of the agreement are. There’s no negotiation room, so people are forced into this situation.”

LONG WAITS AND BIG BILLS

Because Canada doesn’t recognize the Taliban government Afghans must get to a third country with consular support to complete their refugee applications. Many flee to neighboring Pakistan where Canada has a High Commission in the capital of Islamabad.

Nearly all Afghan refugees deemed eligible for resettlement are placed in the care of the International Organization for Migration while they are overseas.

The IOM organizes both charter and commercial flights to Canada and coordinates hotel stays for refugees as they wait for their exit permits. IOM doesn’t book flights until after IRCC has completed security and medical checks of its applicants. The organization bills the Canadian government approximately $150 per day to house and provide three meals a day for one family.

Of the 25,400 Afghans who have arrived in Canada since August 2021, IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon told CTV News in an emailed statement Friday the organizations has arranged travel for more than 22,000 of those refugees.

The claims of another 15,000 Afghans Canada committed to accepting after the Taliban took over the country have been delayed.

Irfanullah Noori, 28 and his family of five stepped off a plane at Pearson International Airport less than two months ago at the end of October. Before the Taliban took over his homeland in Noori worked as a logistics coordinator at the Kabul International Airport. He qualified for asylum because his brother served as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers.

Before being issued travel documents to Canada, Nouri, his wife and their three children, all under the age of five – stayed in an Islamabad hotel arranged by IOM for three months.

Irfanullah Noori poses with his youngest daughter on October 25, 2022 at the Pakistan International Airport before he boarded plane bound for Canada.

Before boarding his flight he signed a loan agreement. Nouri says IOM staff told him he would need to repay hotel expenses that added up to more than $13,000. That amount does not factor in the cost of flights for his family that he will also have to repay.

MISLEADING COSTS

IRCC says 96 per cent of refugees are able to pay back the loans. Monthly payments on the interest free loans are scheduled to begin one year after refugees arrive in Canada and costs can be spread out over nine years.

The federal government puts a cap of $15,000 on each loan per family, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says this is a misleading number.

Refugee families who have older dependents may have to pay back more than the cap. That’s because dependents over the age of 22 years old, can be considered a separate family unit and required to take on a new loan. Dench says this policy puts refugees in a precarious economic position. She’s seen families fight over finances and hopes and dreams put on hold.

“You have young people who should normally be going to university and pursuing their education but they feel that they’re morally obliged to get down to work, even at a minimum wage job in order to pay off the family debt,” said Dench. She argues the Canadian government should stop requiring refugees to repay the costs of getting them to safety, no matter where they come from.

SIMILAR CLAIMS, DIFFERENT TIME FRAMES

Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Veterans Transition Network has helped raise funds to get interpreters and others out of Afghanistan. Oliver Thorne, VTN’s executive director says he’s frustrated that there are huge variations how long it takes for claims to be approved between applicants with similar profiles

“Some migrants are left in the dark. They don’t know why it’s taking them an additional two, four or six months compared to another interpreter who worked with the Canadian armed forces.” Thorne says IRCC needs to hire and train more staff to speed up the processing of claims.

He’s also calling for the removal of loan requirements, especially for Afghans who assisted the Canadian armed forces.

“They protected our men and women in uniform at great risk to themselves and their families. And secondly, these are going to be Canadians. They’re going to live here in our society down the street from us, and we have nothing to gain by making their transition more difficult,” Thorne said in an interview from Vancouver.

NO DEBT RELIEF

CTV News asked the Immigration Minister if it was fair that the Canadian government was burdening Afghans with additional costs due to the government backlog.

On Friday, Sean Fraser blamed a complicated process, but acknowledged that some refugees had been stuck “for a significant period of time.’ But the minister offered few solutions other than a vague reassurance that his department was “working with Pakistani officials to make sure we’re facilitating the smooth transportation of people to Canada.”

Meanwhile Noori is struggling to make ends meet in his new Ontario home, despite finding a job a few weeks ago at the General Motors plant in Oshawa.

Hired as a data-entry clerk, Noori earns $19/hour and is trying to pick up extra shifts on the weekend so he can make his $2,000 monthly rent on a one bedroom apartment.

Even though he won’t have to start paying back his refugee loan until next year, he’s daunted by the impending bill.

“It’s expensive (here.) I work 8 hours a day and six days a week. It will be very hard for me to pay back.”

After surviving the Taliban, Noori now faces subsistence in Canada.

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Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries

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A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.

Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.

It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.

Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

British Columbia‘s police watchdog has cleared a slain Burnaby RCMP constable of wrongdoing after she shot a man in the altercation that led to her death.

The Independent Investigations Office says after a review of all available evidence its chief civilian director determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe Const. Shaelyn Yang committed an offence.

It says the matter will not be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.

Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.

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Yang shot the suspect before she died, and the IIO later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.

Ham has since been charged with first-degree murder in Yang’s death.

“Due to concurrent court proceedings related to the incident, the IIO’s public report will not be released on the IIO website until that process has concluded,” the IIO said in a news release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.

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