"So many dreams at first seem impossible. And then they seem improbable. And then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
~ Christopher Reeve

Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Our Disability Welfare System Needs Rebuilding"

There's a good article by Andre Picard in Thursday's edition of the Globe and Mail on why all the the provinces need to amend their legislation to ensure that RDSP benefits are not clawed back.

And in words much better than mine:

Under federal legislation, a person with a disability can continue to benefit from other social programs - the Guaranteed Income Supplement, Old Age Security Pension and Canada Pension Plan - even if they withdraw funds from their RDSP.

However boring, the arcana of tax law do matter.

For the federal plan to really achieve its goal of lifting people with disabilities out of poverty, the provinces need to get on board, quickly.

Currently, recipients of social assistance who receive income from other sources (from employment or gifts) have their benefits clawed back. They can also be deemed ineligible for assistance based on their level of assets.

Clearly, it would be a perversity of public policy for provinces and territories to clawback funds set aside for people with disabilities by their families.

It would be equally perverse to say, as a matter of policy, that disabled people are ineligible for social assistance because they have assets in a RDSP.

Yet, to date, only British Columbia, Newfoundland and Yukon have exempted the RDSP as an asset and/or income.

What are the other eight provinces and two territories waiting for exactly?

How dare they consider pilfering money from the pockets of people with disabilities and their families?

. . .

People with severe disabilities who are unable to work - about 500,000 countrywide - receive social assistance payments in the range of $10,000 a year in most provinces.

Attempts to break free of this poverty trap usually result in benefits being clawed back, though there are some innovative programs in British Columbia, Manitoba and Newfoundland that allow people with disabilities to supplement their benefits without being penalized.

The RDSP is an attempt to further change that untenable and counterproductive situation.

Go read it all.

And then go find out what your particular province is doing to support, as opposed to undermine, this first small step in the necessary tear down and rebuild of the welfare system in Canada.

Are they continuing to pilfer money from the pockets of people with disabilities and their families? If so, how are they justifying their actions? And what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

If They Can Do It In The Yukon ...

Apparently the Yukon has recently published a new version of their Social Assistance Regulations in which the RDSP (Registered Disability Savings Plan) has been exempted as an asset. It is also indicated that the RDSP will not be included in the calculation of liquid assets for an individual receiving social assistance.

And the Yukon Department of Health and Social Services has also indicated that they will not count the income from the RDSP when they determine benefit levels for someone on social assistance.


Which begs the question ...

If the Yukon and British Columbia can do it and if progress is being made in other provinces as well (in the form of a Private Member's Bill in Ontario, for example), what's up with Nova Scotia?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Your Immediate Attention Is Required

Update: The NSACL press conference scheduled for 10 am tomorrow morning is cancelled. The Association, Nichele Benn and her family wish to thank the Department of Community Services for their attentiveness to Nichele's needs. Nichele will remain in the community with her supports.

Please circulate this message. We apologize for any inconvenience but are so very happy for Nichele.

Received this missive through the email chain today and thought I better pass it on. Anyone local to Halifax, it would be much appreciated if you could attend.

As background, you might remember that we have discussed the various programs available under the Services for Persons with Disabilities program before. Sounds like this young woman might have been in the Alternative Family program.

You might also remember one of the initial posts on this blawg back in August of last year concerning the Province's announcement that they planned to spend $19million to RENOVATE an aging institution outside New Glasgow and to build 3 replacement group homes. At that time, I noted that this had more than a few groups concerned. My best guess is that this is part of the fallout.
Subject: Family needs support
Importance: High


There is a young woman who lives in the community with another family. She has lived with this family for over 5 years and there are extra supports provided to meet her needs. Community Services agree that she has made progress. She wants to stay there. Her own family wants her to stay there. The family she lives with wants her to stay. Her doctor has written to Community Services to say she should stay.

Community Services are opening the new institution in Lower Sackville next month. They have told the Mom that the young woman must move to the institution when it opens. They have told her, and repeated it today, that they will withdraw funding if she refuses the move.

NSACL is holding a press conference on Thursday at 10am, at the Delta Halifax, Baronet Room 6. (right beside Scotia Square).

I know this is short notice but time is of the essence. They need a show of support. Please try to attend and encourage others. Community Services intends to re-assess all people receiving support from the Services for Persons with Disabilities Program. Someone you love could be affected.

Speakers will include the Mom, People First, another family and a
lawyer.

Mary Rothman

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Our Loss, Their Gain

Highly credible rumour has it that Mr. Justice Thomas Cromwell (currently of Nova Scotia Court of Appeal fame) is a front-runner for the next appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Many moons ago (long before his judgeship days), His Lordship was my Civil Procedure Professor at Dalhousie Law School. He was a great prof (smart, funny and very down-to-earth and approachable) and from what I have seen and heard, an excellent judge as well.

Apparently, I'm not the only one to feel that way.
Lawyers and court watchers throughout Atlantic Canada like Justice Cromwell’s chances.

He is "a very able-bodied person," said Lorne Clarke, a retired chief justice of Nova Scotia Supreme Court. "He’s got a great academic record."

"When he’s on the bench, he’s a mensch," said Joel Pink, a prominent Halifax defence lawyer. "Essentially, he’s a gentleman first class. When you look at Ottawa, that’s essentially what you have, those types of individuals."

Wayne MacKay, a professor at Dalhousie law school, also lauded Justice Cromwell.
"I just think Tom is a person with the qualities required to be a Supreme Court judge: compassionate, very polite, moderate and balanced in his approach to things, so to me, he’d be an excellent choice."

"Cromwell is the best," said one Newfoundland lawyer who spoke on condition that his name not be used. "If I had an opinion on it, he would be the guy. There’s nobody in Newfoundland."

Justice Cromwell is bilingual, which is desirable, especially given that he would replace Justice Bastarache, who is bilingual. And he has experience at the top court, having worked there as an executive legal officer in the 1990s.

Justice Cromwell’s record of decisions shows he is a moderate, court watchers say. Mr. Harper might like to appoint someone more conservative.

"I think they’ll be looking for someone who is seen to share that agenda, or at least not to be antagonistic to that agenda," said Philip Girard, a professor at Dalhousie law school. "That’s a bit of a hard person to find in Atlantic Canada."
Were he to receive the next appointment to Canada's highest court, if would be a very happy and a very sad day, indeed. He would be very valuable addition to the SCC, no doubt about it. But he would be sadly missed from our Court of Appeal.

As one of my various jobs, I digest decisions from our courts and I can honestly say that I truly appreciate those written by Mr. Justice Cromwell. They are always well-written and logical and show a solid grasp of both the law and common sense.

And as an advocate in the field of special needs, I can tell you that no matter the bench, be it our Court of Appeal or the SCC, I would be happy to see any of our cases argued before this man. It would receive a very fair hearing. And that's really all you can ask for.

So, all the best to Justice Cromwell. Here's hoping you get that new appointment. And here's equally hoping that you don't.

Monday, July 7, 2008

This Just In ... Henson Trust Handbook Now Available Online

Which would be very good news, seeing as how we already know what a valuable and important tool the Henson Trust can be in planning for the future of individuals with disabilities. And how important it is that that such a trust be done exactly right in order for them to work.

Although prepared by Reena and with a definite slant towards the Ontario system, I have no doubt that it will still prove useful for those of us in the disability community in Nova Scotia. Just remember that the rules under the ODSP system as to allowable assets are different than in the Nova Scotia system. So take that part with a bit of a grain of salt and refer back to our previous discussion on the current Nova Scotia system in this regard.

Just to whet your appetite, a quick peek at the Table of Contents
Part 1:
How Henson Trusts can support people who receive ODSP
benefits 4
What is a trust? 4
When is it a good idea to provide fully for your loved one using a trust? 5
What kind of trust could help your relative? 5

Part 2:
Everything you need to know about ODSP 7
What is ODSP? 7
Who can get ODSP? 8
How does ODSP define disability? 8
How does ODSP decide how much money a person with disabilities will get? 8
Answers to common questions about ODSP 10

Part 3:
Setting up a Henson Trust 13
What to consider when you choose a trustee 13
What to include in the Henson Trust provisions 14
Answers to common questions about Henson Trusts 15

Part 4:
How to prepare for the future 20
Developing a financial plan 20
Building up your estate 22
Other things you can do to meet your relative’s needs 23
Answers to common questions about wills and estates 26

Part 5:
Is a Henson Trust a good choice for you? 29
Profiles of families considering a Henson Trust 31

Part 6:
Resources 32

Part 7:
Glossary
So what are you waiting for?

H/T to Dorothy Kitchen, Disability Rights Coalition