On December 1st of 2015 the world got a little brighter for everyone on Persons with Disability (PWD). On that date the total assets that someone could possess rose from $5,000 to $100,000, and receiving monetary gifts became less likely to cause problems with the Financial Aid Worker (FAW). While the changes were not earth shattering or necessarily life altering, it wasn’t nothing either. However, I was surprised by the reactions of many people both disabled and abled alike.

“Where are people with disabilities going to get $100,000?” seemed to be the reaction of many. Or “Well it won’t affect me, so who cares?” was another common refrain. Both these reactions seemed to arise from the continued belief that People with Disabilities are universally poor and will always remain so. Or support a belief that people with disabilities cannot or should not be allowed to handle their own finances for some reason. Such opinions also miss a second more fundamental point of living with a disability within British Columbia, that being the constant surveillance that some FAWs put disabled people under, and the fear and stress that this can cause.

On the first point people with disabilities being universally poor, one of the major contributors to that belief was the low asset limit. Most disabled people one time during their lives will actually have money. Inheritances, being gainfully employed, insurance claim settlements, heck even family members, or the clients themselves, winning the lottery can be sources of funds that a disabled person could get sometime during their lifetimes. Up till now little or none of these funds actually stayed in the hands of people with disabilities because of the $5,000 limit.

It wasn’t necessarily a lot of money, often time it was between five and ten thousand, but it could have been higher. But in any of these cases, once that $5,000 limit was met people had three options.

One: They could spend it until it hit $5,000 meaning that they could look frivolous and spendthrift to an outside observer who didn’t know the reasoning.

Two: They could open a trust fund or annuity; but that meant lawyers and restrictions on how and when the money could be spent. Or people could use the public trusties and watch their monies slowly be eroded by fees.

Three: People with Disabilities could open a Registered Disability Saving Plan (RDSP) and while this did keep the funds under the control of the disabled person it also locked away the funds for extended periods of time.

As a personal example, years ago a car hit me when I was in my wheelchair. I wasn’t seriously hurt, but I was given a small settlement to help with medical costs, pain and suffering etc. Unfortunately, I was told by my FAW at the time that I had to spend it or lose my payments; and that is why I bought my first computer. Not a bad thing to spend my money on I admit, but I would have much preferred to have had the choice of it instead of being forced to.

With the increase in the asset limit to $100,000 people on PWD will be have greater control over their personal finances. No more trust funds of small amounts of money. No more having to trust family members to ‘hold’ the monies for you, no more lawyers or added paper work. Just take the money put it into the bank, or possibly investing it, if you so choose. The simple reduction of stress and red tape for many people will be a significant increase in their quality of life.

As for the Big Brother component, many FAWs not only see it as their job to make sure people with disabilities stay in the financial rules but take some perverse glee in doing so. Abled people do not realize that FAWs have the right to go through a PWD recipient’s financial history and records to make sure that they’re under the asset rules. Many people with disabilities live in a state of constant fear of losing benefits because they were given a gift or received a small inheritance. With the asset limit increased to $100,000 much of this concern is no longer valid. It’s just so much higher that it not worth the time or effort for FAWs to try and keep track of every dollar being spent. So strongboxes holding last year’s Christmas monies can be opened, the joint accounts can be shut down, the money put directly under the disabled person’s name and that locked in RRSP you have can be openly talked about. All without the fear of the FAW bogy man coming and ruining your life.  This means that for many disabled peoples their true financial worth can be openly determined without fear of repercussion. Again lowering stress increasing quality of life and putting an end to the myth that people with disabilities as a group cannot be trusted with their own money.

Or at least this will happen, in the near future. Right now things are in flux at the Ministry of Social Services as they figure out what these changes all mean to their own procedures. If you want to move money around right away, give your FAW a call; explain what you want to do and find out what the implications are. Once you get a ruling, make sure that the person you talk to writes that ruling into your permanent file. Keeping a record of who you talked to, when you talked to them and exactly what the final decision was is not a bad idea as well.

So while the increase in the asset limit might not change things for people in the short term, the fact that people with disabilities can openly keep the assets that they have acquired like so many ‘normal’ people will lead, over the medium and long term, to greater self-confidence, a sense of greater control and very definitely less fear for those involved. And that is a very big deal!

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