Jane Dyson

Disability assistance restrictions eased

People on assistance can accept a gift or inheritance up to $100,000 without having their monthly payments cut

Parents, advocates for the disabled and even the opposition critic applauded the B.C. government’s move to increase financial independence for people receiving disability assistance payments.

Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell has announced that effective Dec. 1, recipients will be able to receive financial gifts and inheritances of up to $100,000 without affecting their monthly payments. The current lifetime limit is $5,000 per person, after which assistance payments are reduced.

Stilwell said the change affects 96,000 people in B.C. who receive disability assistance.

“It’s available to all those individuals, and of course it would depend on their personal situations, their family support, friend support, whether they’re working or not working,” Stilwell said. “And those are definitely changes that we’re trying to encourage as well, to help individuals to get into the workforce, so they can create opportunities for themselves to earn and to save.”

The government previously raised the earned income exemption so people can earn up to $9,600 a year without reduction of their disability assistance, and has encouraged B.C. businesses to hire disabled people.

James Ho, a member of the minister’s council on employment and accessibility, called the gift and inheritance policy “a quantum leap forward” for disabled people like his son.

Kathy Bromley, a disability advocate whose daughter attends Simon Fraser University, struggled to control her emotions at a ceremony at the B.C. legislature announcing the change Nov. 5.

“Just because Shannon was born with a disability and needs help to brush her teeth and put her coat on … she needs to have a good reason to wake up every morning,” Bromley said.

NDP social development critic Michelle Mungall the change is “definitely good news” for those who can take advantage of it.

“I know with some of the families that I’ve been working with, people have come forward wanting to help them out, and they haven’t been able to because of the gift rule,” Mungall said.

“But at the end of the day, what we know is that the income assistance rates are very low, they are leaving people in poverty, and we see policies like the maternity leave clawback.”