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The federal government increased her disability payment. Then Nova Scotia reduced it by the same amount

When Trudy Goold received a cost-of-living increase to her Canada Pension Plan disability payments earlier this year, she felt a sense of relief. But it didn’t last long. 

The increase of $66 per month was then deducted from her provincial disability support payment, leaving her right where she started. 

“It’s kind of like, ‘What’s going on?'” said Goold, 47. “You never get above the amount you started with, essentially.”

Goold, who is autistic and has a physical disability, receives support from various federal and provincial government programs, totalling just over $2,000 monthly. 

She relies on her family to help her buy food and pay for things like transportation, medication and physical therapy.

According to Claire McNeil, a staff lawyer with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, Nova Scotia’s policy of not protecting cost-of-living increases has been around since the 1990s, and is keeping many people with disabilities in deep poverty. 

“Really what we’re talking about is basic subsistence,” said McNeil, who has represented the Disability Rights Coalition. “This is not luxury, this is not frills. This is like the ability to pay for the food and the rent that you need to stay alive, so people are forced into pretty desperate circumstances.”

CPP increases each January

According to the federal government, the CPP disability pension includes a flat rate amount and an amount based on the recipient’s contributions to the plan.

“To account for any rise in the cost of living, CPP benefit amounts are increased each January to ensure that the purchasing power is maintained, as measured by the Consumer Price Index,” spokesperson Maja Stefanovska said in an email.

Lawyer Claire McNeil said people with disabilities who don’t have family support are often put in desperate situations. (CBC)

McNeil said cost-of-living increases are protected at the federal level, and in some provinces and territories, like Quebec, New Brunswick and the Yukon. But Nova Scotia is one of many that don’t provide this protection. 

For people on income assistance or the disability support program, this means any federal cost-of-living increase is considered augmented income, and provincial payments are decreased. 

“What the federal government gives you with one hand, the province takes away with the other,” McNeil said.

An elderly woman in a pink shirt sits in an armchair.
Susan Goold says she has always worried her daughter would become homeless. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Goold’s mother, Susan Goold, said supporting her daughter means a tighter budget for herself.

She said if Trudy didn’t have family, she doesn’t know where she would be.

“I was always terrified that Trudy would become homeless,” she said. “I dread to think of it. I really do, because she would have trouble with her rent, she’d have trouble with her food, and those are two of the basic necessities of life.”

Trudy said the provincial and federal payments don’t allow disabled people to get ahead, and puts them in precarious positions.

“We talk a lot in this province about homelessness. Well, that’s where some of your homeless are coming from.”

Province says there’s ‘more to do’

A spokesperson from the Department of Community Services said she could not discuss Goold’s case, but explained anyone eligible for income assistance or the disability support program must meet certain criteria.

This includes a financial assessment, in which most federal payments are considered income. 

“Income does subtract from the amount someone can receive from DCS programs,” spokesperson Christina Deveau wrote in an email. 

Deveau said the province recently announced an increase in income assistance for some people with disabilities who are not enrolled in the disability support program, but there is “more to do.”

Halifax woman calls for changes to improve income assistance in Nova Scotia

A policy from the 1990s states any cost of living increases to payments from the federal government can be subtracted from a person’s provincial supports. Nicola Seguin has the story.

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