Federal government reduces grants to disabled students

Postsecondary students with disabilities are getting shortchanged with the new income-reporting procedure in applications for federal grants, according to NDP Vancouver East MP Libby Davies.

In a letter to the Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley, Davies noted that in the past these students were required to state only their projected income and expenses. However, they are now being asked to cite their gross income as reported in their previous year’s tax return, and that includes grants received from the federal government.

“To me, it’s absolute[ly] idiotic,” Davies told the Straight by phone. “It completely defeats the purpose of why they have grants in the first place: to help students with disabilities to go back to school.”

In her letter to Finley dated September 3, 2009, Davies pointed out that a student on a B.C. disability assistance of $11,000 per year would no longer qualify for the Canada study grant for high-need part-time students because their “previous grant ”˜income’ pushes them above the $14,100 threshold”. She hadn’t received a reply as of September 15.

Davies wrote Finley after her office was informed by one of her constituents, Roberta Sciarretta, about the change in income-reporting.

Sciarretta, who is on permanent disability assistance, used to get $2,000 and $1,200 through the Canada access grant for students with permanent disabilities and Canada study grant for high-need part-time students, respectively. But because it’s now gross income that the government is using to calculate allocations, she will no longer be eligible for the $1,200 grant starting this semester.

“The difference is when they’re looking at gross [income], the number reflects the money that they gave you when they pay on your behalf—they give you a T-4 slip for that money—for you to go to school,” Sciarretta told the Straight. “So it is included in your gross even though it’s not your actual income. So that makes you then ineligible for further funding. So it’s a cutback, but they’ve done it so slyly that you don’t even realize what it is.”