It has been over a year since the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was introduced to support many Canadians across the country, and it has been over six months since it ceased rollout during the pandemic. Throughout its existence, $2,000 each month was given to millions of families and individuals to live a moderate livelihood, afford groceries, pay bills, and all with little to no questions or stipulations from the government. Generally, I think we can all agree that the CERB helped countless people who lost their jobs or had difficulty making ends meet.
However, we must think to ourselves: What if we were only given half that amount? What if we were not eligible if we already made $6,100 that year? How about if we had other expenses that required more than what they were handing out? What if you were denied these monthly payments if you lived with someone else who made over $6,100 that year?
This is the lived experience of individuals who live with a disability, as many have been living in deep poverty for years. The New Brunswick government has two social assistance programs, the Transitional Assistance Program (TAP) and the Extended Benefits Program (EBP), which are meant to provide income for basic needs for those who do not have other sources of income. Unfortunately, for many people with a disability, these income programs have become their only source of income for many years. Being the province with the second highest rates of disability in Canada, social assistance has become a constricting force that will not allow individuals with a disability to live a moderate livelihood, let alone pay bills that will keep a roof over their head or put food on the table for themselves.
In Canada, we measure poverty through a Market Basket Measure (MBM), which looks at different regions in Canada and evaluates how much it costs to live in each location by how much groceries, mortgage payments, and other general necessities cost. For New Brunswick, the cost for a family of four to live for a year was between $41,459 and $44,652 in 2018, and for a single person (New Brunswick Disability Executives’ Network) it was between $18,106 and $19,838 in 2018. People on both the TAP and EBP receives at most $8,364 in 2021 ($605 from TAP or $697 from EBP each month).
If these people are living in poverty, then one may ask: “Why not just pick up a job, those will give out more than $697 each month.” Well, let us consider the lived experiences of those with a disability. Individuals with a disability are significantly less likely to have garnered the same level of education of someone without a disability, therefore many jobs that pay higher are off the table, so how about minimum-wage customer service positions? Many positions like these are unable to accommodate for those with a wheelchair, hearing difficulties, or are very demanding for those who experience pain through prolonged hours of labour.
As we can see, there are many barriers and shortcomings from the government allowing individuals with disabilities to live a moderate livelihood. Without help from family and friends, these people will have to choose between food, a home, or in some cases, childcare. Hopefully with a better understanding of the struggle that many individuals with disabilities live through, we can collectively push for a New Brunswick where we support each other as a community on top of providing vulnerable populations with the means to contribute to society and live a fruitful life.
Jeff Pearson is a social work student at St. Thomas University.
A version of this commentary was published by the Telegraph-Journal.