"As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected
and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever
~Clarence Darrow

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Blawg Bleg - Gap Year for Young Adults with Special Needs

I would like to request your assistance with my current project du jour.

Our kids who are eligible for the Disability Tax Credit receive a Disability Supplement on the monthly Child Tax Benefit cheque. This can be quite significant - in my case, both my daughters get the Supplement and it doubles the amount of our monthly cheque. But when they turn 18 (which my oldest does in March) they lose the Child Tax Benefit (including the Disability Supplement) and the Province doesn't kick in with Social Assistance benefits until the person turns 19.

I have been dealing with my MLA (Ramona Jennex) on this issue, who has been dealing with the Minister of Community Services on my behalf. Apparently the Minister if aware of the issue but hasn't yet figured our what (if anything) to do about it. So Ramona asked me to write a letter directly to the Minister setting out specifically what I wanted to see happen which she would then hand-deliver. You can find a copy of that letter below the jump.

I haven't heard anything back yet and I think it would be really good if the Minister had letters coming at her from all over the Province on this issue so she could see it's not an isolated thing, but it has a big impact on a lot of families. So I am asking you to please take a few minutes to write to both your MLA and the Minister expressing your concern with this matter. For many families, that lost income can make a big difference over the course of a year.

Although actual written (typed) letters are known to be much more effective than email, if writing an email is all you can do, even that is better than nothing. I believe we can get this issue dealt with if we make it clear we are serious about it. So please take a few minutes and type or write something up to send your MLA and the Minister. You can use the same letter to both (perhaps direct the letter to the Minister and copy it to the MLA) and work off my attached letter, if you wish, but please don't just copy my letter and send it on because we know it takes actual individual letters to have political impact and form letters just don't cut it.

If you're not sure who your MLA is you can go to this page and find out by selecting your electoral district from the drop down menu. Then click on the MLA Information link under the name of your MLA and you will be taken to a page with the MLA's contact information.

This page will give you the contact information for the Minister of Community Services.

Even if your child is over the age of 19 and this no longer directly applies to your family, I would still ask for your assistance. The more letters we get moving, the better chance we will to with deal with this issue. And the way I see it is we have a lot of things that need changing but we can only do it one issue at a time.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Letter to Minister Peterson-Rafuse

The Honourable Denise Peterson-Rafuse
Department of Community Services
8th Floor, Nelson Place
5675 Spring Garden Road
P.O. Box 696
Halifax, Nova Scotia
B3J 2T7

Dear Minister Peterson-Rafuse:

Re: Gap year for young adults with special needs

I am writing to you on behalf of many parents in the Province concerning the “gap year” experienced by families with children with special needs between the ages of 18 and 19 years.

As I am sure you are aware in your role as Minister of Community Services, once young adults reach the age of 18 years, the federal government discontinues all Child Tax Benefit payments to families. For families with children that are mentally or physically challenged and who are also eligible for the Disability Tax Credit, this results in the additional loss of the Disability portion of the Child Tax Benefit. Depending on family income, this can amount to a significant amount of money for a family trying to make ends meet while meeting the extraordinary costs involved in caring for a challenged child.

Unfortunately, with the age of majority in Nova Scotia being 19 years, these young adults are not considered eligible for provincial social assistance payments (or, more accurately, payments under the Employment and Income Support Act) until they reach the age of 19. Thus, we have the so-called “gap year” for families when their challenged children are between the ages of 18 and 19, which no level of government has seen fit to address.

As I noted above, for some (no doubt, many) families this can result in a significant drop in family income for that year. I am sure you are aware of the extraordinary costs involved in meeting the diverse needs of these challenged young adults, some of which the Province attempts to assist with through payments made to families through the Services for Persons with Disabilities program. Unfortunately, although these payments are much appreciated, they fail to address the issue of the gap year.

I have been in contact with various parents (from around the Province) who have spoken (or attempted to speak) with their MLAs on this issue. Clearly, this is not an issue peculiar to just my family (our oldest daughter, who is mentally challenged and experiences other challenges, as well, will turn 18 on March 29th of this year) but which deeply affects many families in the Province.

I am requesting that you address this issue within the Department of Community Services. Personally, I see two possible solutions. One solution might be to transition children to adult services at the age of 18, as opposed to 19 years, so there will be congruency with the federal government.

A second alternative that I am personally aware of having been used at least once in the past is not to transition the youth to adult services at age 18, but simply to provide him or her with the social assistance benefits to which they would be entitled as a “youth” pursuant to sec. 45 of the Regulations made pursuant to the Employment Support and Income Assistance Act.

From my point of view and based on my discussions with other parents, I believe that either alternative would be acceptable to the majority of the disability community. Our only request is that something be done to address this issue.

One other issue I might note, in closing, involves yet another “gap year” with respect to the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). Given that the age of majority in Nova Scotia is 19 and the federal government uses the age of 18 to determine adulthood, an issue arises if a young person,18 years of age or older, is considered legally incompetent, in which case only a legal guardian (with certain limited exceptions) can open a RDSP on their behalf. However, since a parent is unable to petition the court for guardianship of their child until that child reaches the age of 19, for the year the child is 18, no one is able to open a RDSP on their behalf. Although addressing this issue is not the purpose of my letter today, I raise it simply to bring it to your attention, possibly to be dealt with at a later time.

Let me take this opportunity to say how much I appreciate your efforts on behalf of families with children with special needs and on behalf of these individuals, directly, when they become adults. In that vein, I am hopeful that this NDP government will see its way clear to quickly remedying this very unfair situation that no other government has seen fit to deal with.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Ken said...

Excellent letter.

Ken P

MMC said...

Thanks, Ken.
I was wondering, is this an issue in Ontario, too - what is your age of majority there?

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