The government is discussing changing eligibility criteria
Potential changes to who qualifies for AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) in order to save money in the 2021 budget is on the table. Currently, AISH recipients receive $1,685 a month.
Charles Philips has been on AISH since 2002 or 2003.
“The process for me was a bit easier [than for most] as I have kidney failure and am on dialysis, which is something that automatically qualifies for AISH,” Philips explains. His doctor still completed a three-page document affirming his condition and that it is terminal without dialysis.
Philips receives $1,798 a month from AISH. The extra money is a dietary stipend meant to help offset the cost of the specialized diet he needs to survive. His medication is also covered by AISH. He considers himself lucky, as he lives with his brother as a roommate and spends half of his AISH income on rent. His other expenses are food, a phone, and a bus pass. Even with a quite modest lifestyle, he says he still feels the pinch at the end of the month.
“My biggest concern, however, is that the UCP will get rid of or change the automatic qualifications and force me to reapply. That would cost me my apartment as I do not have enough money to pay rent without AISH.”
Although AISH will backdate payments to the date someone qualifies, this can still mean losing a home or extra charges for late fees, an expense Philips can’t afford. The recent change to payments arriving on the first of the month instead of a few days before has also been stressful. Although he hasn’t had a payment come late yet this year, he has in the past, which required at least three or four days to fix.
Philips says the recent talk about AISH eligibility has taken an emotional toll.
“Much like I felt when the pandemic started,” Philips says. “People were going on about how only the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions were at risk. It’s not nice to know that your life is an acceptable casualty.”
He’d like to see AISH indexed to inflation again; that way AISH recipients don’t have to wait for the government to decide on increases. Instead, the increase automatically comes with cost of living increases.
Sam (last name withheld) has been on AISH for just over five years.
“The application process was brutal. I had to get multiple doctors to fill out multiple papers. It seemed they all said the same thing. I felt like it was assumed I was lying or trying to be lazy,” she says.
Unlike Philips, Sam doesn’t automatically qualify for AISH as her disability isn’t terminal. Sam receives AISH due to mental health. She is diagnosed with severe PTSD, depression, and anxiety and experiences panic attacks often. She also has ADHD.
Sam used to be precariously housed, but since qualifying for AISH she has secured stable housing with a roommate. She says she’d prefer her own place, but it’s much better than where she was before.
“AISH has made it so I can function, at least a bit like a ‘normal’ person,” Sam says with air quotes. “My medication is covered and most days it has made it so I can be productive, at least a little,” she laughs.
When the date of AISH payments was changed to the first of the month, Sam said it threw her into a panic. She relies on AISH cheques to come in the mail as she doesn’t trust electronic banking. Some cheques have arrived late in the past, but they usually show up three to four days prior to her rent payment. She doesn’t know what will happen if one comes late now. She suspects she’ll be on the hook for late fees.
“Things are really tight as it is. I can’t afford an extra $50 to $100 in late fees. That’s my food budget!”
Sam says she is worried about no longer qualifying for AISH, as the rhetoric around people abusing the program seems to be pointed at people who are on AISH due to mental health struggles. If she loses the funding, she doesn’t know what she will do. She isn’t in a place where she can work a regular job—although she hopes to get to that place some day—nor does she have family or friends nearby to help support her.
“I’ll end up back on the streets. I’ll lose the medication and therapy I have been receiving. The fact that I am even able to talk to you today is because of that therapy and medication.”
Sam says she wishes the government, regardless of its political stripe, would see people on AISH and all disabled people differently.
“We are f****ing people! Just people like everyone else and we deserve to live our lives with safety, health, and happiness. Why can’t they see us that way?”