Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to join my colleagues today to participate in this important debate on Bill C-20, which provides an administrative amendment so we can better support Canadians with disabilities during this pandemic.
It feels like a very long time ago now, but in fact it was just over a year ago that the Accessible Canada Act became law. This legislation had unanimous support in both the House of Commons and the Senate. I hope the same spirit will live on and all parties will support this important piece of legislation that will enable this critical emergency financial support to be provided to Canadians with disabilities.
We know this pandemic has deeply affected the lives and health of all Canadians, but it has disproportionately affected Canadians with disabilities. Persons with disabilities have incurred significant costs to safely get food, medication and other basic necessities. We also know there are additional costs for delivery services and private transportation.
It is also possible that support workers for persons with disabilities may not be available and that they must be paid privately because of a reduction in volunteer and subsidized services.
As we work together to reopen the economy, we must continue to protect the health and safety of persons with disabilities and ensure we maintain an approach that is inclusive by design. This has meant working together with organizations and persons with disabilities across the country, and using a disability lens to come up with a plan to provide the support they need during this difficult time. This is how our current response has come to have key components, including direct financial support through this one-time payment, employment supports and accessible communications.
I will begin with the one-time payment. This is non-taxable and is $600 for Canadians with disabilities. We recently announced we would propose legislation that would make this benefit available to more people and expand it to include approximately 1.7 million Canadians with disabilities who are recipients of a disability tax credit certificate, CPP disability or QPP disability benefits, or disability support provided by Veterans Affairs Canada. This payment will help cover the costs of things such as PPE, support workers or increased use of taxis and home delivery services for groceries and transportation.
Seniors who have a disability tax credit certificate and are entitled to the old age security pension will receive $300 in addition to the special COVID-19 special payment, a one-time $300 payment to seniors.
Canadians who are certificate holders of the disability tax credit and are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement will receive a payment of $100 in addition to the special COVID-19 one-time payment to seniors of $500.
With this new support and the special payments announced last month, all seniors who are certificate holders of the disability tax credit, the DTC, Canada pension plan disability, as well as Quebec pension plan disability recipients and recipients of VAC's disability supports, will receive a total of $600.
As I mentioned earlier, the legislation before us today would support the delivery of this one-time payment. As minister, I have the authority to issue this type of payment under the Department of Employment and Social Development Act, but new legislative authorities are needed so that the Canada Revenue Agency and Veterans Affairs Canada can share information about those eligible for this one-time payment with my department. It is an administrative measure, but it is important as it is about safeguarding the personal information of Canadians and only sharing it for the purposes of creating and delivering this one-time benefit.
Additionally, Canadians with disabilities who are eligible for the disability tax credit but have not yet applied will have a 60-day window of opportunity to apply for the DTC after the bill receives royal assent.
We heard clearly over the past month that many Canadians with disabilities, despite being eligible for the DTC, have not applied for a number of valid reasons. The 60-day application window could increase the number of Canadians receiving the emergency disability payment quite significantly. We will be working closely with the disability community to ensure that those who want to apply have the access and support they need to do so.
We want to ensure that the proper supports are in place for all Canadians. This one-time payment complements the other emergency supports provided by our government.
For example, low-income persons with disabilities benefited from the one-time special payment to the GST credit, provided in April to low and modest-income Canadians. Families of children with disabilities got the additional Canada child benefit payment. Workers with disabilities can access the CERB. Students with disabilities can access the student benefit, including a $750 per month additional amount.
Seniors with disabilities got the senior payment. Persons with disabilities will also benefit from the $350-million investment we made in charities and non-profits so that they can deliver essential services to communities across Canada.
However, these measures did not sufficiently address the extra costs being incurred by Canadians with disabilities. As I mentioned previously, some examples include personal protective equipment, which is life-saving for many Canadians with disabilities and their personal support workers; the extra costs of personal support workers, or general help in the home; the extra costs of purchasing food, and higher prices for all items; extra Internet costs, associated with physical distancing; extra costs due to the loss of in-kind services and community support, such as transportation and meal provision previously offered by volunteers or extended family; and additional therapy, such as mental health services and physical therapy. I would say that the lack of these services threatens the independence of so many of our citizens.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the members of the COVID-19 disability advisory group. The group was created in April to provide advice on the real-time, lived experiences of persons with disabilities during this crisis. Their advice has helped shape our government's response to the pandemic.
They have offered advice and guidance to a number of federal departments, including the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, Indigenous Services Canada and ISED. They have assisted in our collaboration with provinces and territories in areas of provincial jurisdiction. I can think of our conversations around long-term health care in assisted living facilities, visitor policies for hospitals and the provision of PPE to personal support workers.
They have made a significant and meaningful difference in our government's pandemic response because they remind us daily of what is at stake. I thank them for their continued work and advocacy.
I have heard clearly from Canadians in the COVID-19 disability advisory group that employment support for persons with disabilities during the pandemic and into recovery is critical to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind.
We recognize that persons with disabilities are at greater risk of losing their jobs in an economic downturn.
Many people with disabilities are employed in sectors that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, including the service and tourism industries. This is the reason why we have established a national workplace accessibility stream of the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities. Through this stream, we will provide $15 million for 2020 and 2021 in additional funding to help persons with disabilities and to help their employers improve workplace accessibility and access to jobs.
Some of the activities supported by this fund will include setting up accessible and effective work-from-home measures, expanding online training opportunities, creating inclusive workplaces, whether virtual or physical, connecting potential employees with employers, providing training for in-demand jobs and, where needed, wage subsidies.
We also launched an important call for proposals under the enabling accessibility fund small projects component, for small-scale construction, renovation or retrofits, for funding of up to $100,000. Employers are the priority for funding under this call.
Through the youth innovation component of the fund, young Canadians can also express their interest in collaborating with local organizations in their communities to secure funding of up to $10,000 for accessibility projects.
Another important support for persons with disabilities during the pandemic concerns the accessibility of communications. During any public health crisis, it is vitally important that communications be accessible and that we act on the need to engage with persons with disabilities.
It has been raised as a key issue by the disability community and the COVID-19 disability advisory group. That is why on Saturday, June 6, I announced $1.1 million to support national disability organizations and enhance their communications and engagement activities.
This funding is being delivered through the social development partnership program disability component, and will help organizations address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the people they serve. This support will allow organizations to create a barrier-free, multilingual experience for persons with disabilities and ensure they receive accessible and relevant information to support them during this time.
The Government of Canada is also doing its part to ensure Canadians, including Canadians with disabilities, receive timely, clear and accessible information during the pandemic.
An example of the kind of support that has been given is the ongoing provision of ASL and LSQ interpretation during national press conferences so that deaf and hard-of-hearing Canadians can have access in real time to critical information. I anticipate that the provision of ASL and LSQ will continue. It will continue post-COVID as a significant legacy of the work of Canadians with disabilities and their advocates for so long. This will be a true legacy of accessibility.
I am confident that these support measures will greatly benefit Canadians with disabilities across our country. Our actions are based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada's international human rights obligations, including those under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We are also guided by the Accessible Canada Act, which was passed last June. The Accessible Canada Act is actively informing everything we do in regard to persons with disabilities.
I believe that we have taken a disability-inclusive approach to our pandemic response, but I also believe that the delay in getting this money to Canadians with disabilities, in this time of pandemic crisis, has brought to light shortcomings and barriers within Government of Canada programs and services for persons with disabilities, and these need to be addressed.
Having a tax credit as a gatekeeper for federal programs and services is extremely ineffective in our ability to deliver to a really important and significant group of citizens. I think we can do better. Having the Prime Minister put in my mandate letter a commitment to review government programs and services to come up with a consistent definition of and approach to disability will be key in ensuring that no government is ever again put in a position of having to creatively figure out how to get money to people who are so desperately in need of that money.
We had to use the tax system and we had to deal with the pension system, and we are. We will deliver, but it is not ideal. It is easy to sit here and come up with excuses or reasons, but there are none, so I will commit today to ensuring that we do not put our citizens in this position again moving forward, and to doing the hard work, hand in hand with the disability community, to make sure that they are not put in this position again.
This one-time payment is a very important step, but it is just one of many steps that need to be taken to ensure a quality of access and opportunities for people with disabilities in Canada. I think, and I believe, that we will succeed and thrive only when every Canadian can play an equal role in our society. As we work hard to safely restart our economy and recover from the impacts of COVID-19, we cannot leave anyone behind, and we certainly cannot leave our most innovative, creative problem-solvers, who are our citizens with disabilities, behind either.