experts – Agassiz Harrison Observer
Economics and public policy experts warn that the proposed federal dental benefit may not reach the families who need it most because the government has chosen to distribute it through the tax system.
The federal government plans to send checks of up to $650 to eligible low- and middle-income households to help pay for children’s dental care through the same platform used for Canada Child Benefit payments .
This is handled by the Canada Revenue Agency, which experts say could be a problem because many low-income families are less likely to file taxes.
This means they face barriers to accessing Canada Child Benefit payments and could face similar barriers when it comes to getting the new dental benefit.
“Low-income people, homeless people, people on social assistance — all of these groups of people have very low tax filing rates and low take-up of benefits that already exist, like the Canada Child Benefit,” said said Gillian Petit, an economist and research associate at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.
“Pushing dental insurance using the same platform is going to run into a lot of the same issues.”
The same goes for those who speak neither English nor French, she said, citing onerous and intimidating administrative work as a potential factor. She said that will likely be the case for the dental benefits offered as well.
The Canada Revenue Agency plans to use past tax returns to determine if families meet the income criteria and confirm that they have a child under 12. After that, families will need to certify that they do not have private dental insurance and that they are responsible for dental expenses. They will also need to provide contact details for their dentist and the approximate date of their child’s appointment and keep their receipts in case they are audited.
“It’s just a lot of paperwork and time,” Petit said.
Jennifer Robson, associate professor and director of the political management program at Carleton University, says about 10.5% of adults with children under 18 do not file taxes and these families tend to live below the poverty line.
“Intuitively, that’s an awful lot of people who are probably financially vulnerable and less likely to have access to dental insurance,” Robson said.
Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, has previously explained that there are also many reasons why Indigenous people may not file their tax returns, principled positions against colonization and the lack trust in government to declining literacy. resulting from poorly funded public services.
She made the comments in June, when Auditor General Karen Hogan found the government was not doing enough to ensure that income-tested supports, like the child benefit, reached hard-to-reach populations. reach like those living on reserves, despite spending tens of millions of dollars. dollars on awareness.
Dental insurance is a key part of the supply and confidence agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, which stipulates that the government has until the end of the year to provide dental care for children under age 12 whose household income is less than $90,000. .
This new benefit is therefore intended as an interim measure while the federal government works on a more comprehensive dental care plan.
“That’s what you get when you rush politics because you have an artificial deadline,” Robson said. “You’re tinkering with something because a better delivery mechanism would take a lot longer to develop.”
In a joint statement, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said children shouldn’t have to wait to access the care they need.
“The Canada Revenue Agency has the resources to deliver this interim program quickly because of its extensive infrastructure, long experience of serving Canadians, and outreach work within communities to help Canadians navigate the tax and benefit system,” they said in the writing. statement sent on Tuesday.
Ministers have urged potentially eligible parents to open an account with the CRA and ensure they have filed their 2021 tax returns.
Robson disagrees. She said the tax collection agency is designed to do just that – collect taxes – and is not equipped to distribute social benefits.
“The government has learned during the pandemic that the CRA is pretty good at cutting checks for a lot of people,” she said. “I don’t think we understood what that entails.”
The Liberal government’s dental bill is still awaiting a second reading vote in the House of Commons, but is expected to pass with the support of the NDP.
—Laura Osman, The Canadian Press