British Columbia’s ombudsperson has released a report on what he calls a “disturbing” case in which federal benefits intended for the family of a disabled Indigenous girl were instead kept in the province’s coffers for almost three years.
The report from Jay Chalke’s office says the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development acted unjustly by delaying thousands of dollars in federal payments to the caregivers, whose young granddaughter has mental and physical challenges.
Released Tuesday, the report entitled “Short-Changed” says the grandparents became the girl’s legal guardians in 2013 and the Canada Revenue Agency confirmed their eligibility for the Disability Tax Credit and Child Disability Benefit in June 2019, retroactive to 2015.
It says the girl was considered under federal legislation as being “maintained” by the provincial ministry, which was sending the family a monthly payment for parenting costs, thus allowing the ministry to deposit the federal disability benefit into B.C.’s general revenues.
But the report says the provincial payments weren’t related to the girl’s disability and the ministry did not find a way to pay the family funding equivalent to the federal benefit until February 2022, despite knowing about the issue.
Chalke says the ministry has since accepted his office’s recommendations aimed at ensuring the caregivers of children eligible for federal disability benefits receive such money.
A letter to Chalke from Allison Bond, deputy minister for children and family development, says lump sums were paid to caregivers of children eligible for the federal disability benefits, and in future the amounts would be added to the province’s monthly payments.
In the case of the girl, the report says her grandparents had been eligible for more than $7,000 during the time the ministry had failed to work out a solution.
“Other families in the same position were similarly deprived of funds specifically intended for essential care needs,” Chalke writes in his foreword for the report.
He calls the case “disturbing on a couple of levels.”
“Not only did the (family) not receive money that they could have used for essential care needs for their granddaughter, the ministry knew there was a problem and took far too long to fix it. This investigation highlights the interplay between provincial and federal benefits and what can happen when these linkages break.”
Throughout the ombudsperson’s investigation, the report says ministry staff “consistently acknowledged the unfairness experienced by families” and they were already looking at possible solutions to get federal disability benefits to caregivers.
That’s encouraging, the report says, but “any further delay in implementing a solution risks the continuation of an unfairness to those who have taken on the responsibility of raising a child who might otherwise be in the care of the ministry.”
In addition to ensuring caregivers receive retroactive and future payments, Chalke’s office has also recommended that the ministry report regularly to the ombudsperson about its work to address inequities in the way such funding is distributed.