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Sask. family fights deduction of emergency benefits from daughter’s disability income

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WATCH: While some provinces allow people on disability income to keep a portion of the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit, Saskatchewan is deducting them. Now one family is fighting the province on its policy that’s impacting their daughter.

Shaylee Rosnes has learned to live on the cheap.

The 23-year-old University of Regina social work student has cerebral palsy and uses a donated electric wheelchair to get around her multigenerational long-term care home.

For the past five years, she’s received monthly payments of a little over $1,500 through the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program, but has supplemented it with a seasonal or part-time job.

“It’s not really enough to do anything,” she said of the about $250 in SAID money she’s left to live off after covering off her care home fees.

Her hobbies include watching Netflix, singing — and as she describes them, other activities that don’t cost a lot of money.

“Obviously, living in a wheelchair is more expensive. If this thing breaks down I’m paying for it out of pocket,” she said.

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Under SAID, there’s an exemption for earned income of up to $6,000.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Rosnes, who runs a high risk of complications if she contracts the coronavirus and has relatively limited employment options at the best of times, hasn’t been able to find work.

She filed for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), which, according to the federal government’s website, is to support students in her situation.

However, Employment and Social Development Canada does not have jurisdiction over how individual provinces and territories treat that funding as it relates to income assistance programs, such as SAID.

Some, like British Columbia and the Yukon, are treating the emergency benefits, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), as earned income and allowing recipients to keep both. Others, like Alberta and Ontario, are offering a partial exemption.

Saskatchewan deducts emergency benefits dollar for dollar from SAID payments.

On Wednesday, the Rosnes family officially appealed Saskatchewan’s stance, arguing that she should be allowed to keep her CESB money while receiving SAID. They’re awaiting a decision.

Read more: CERB, CESB applicants report weeks-long payment delays as CRA rolls out anti-fraud checks

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Rosnes, with her disability, has been eligible for $2,000 per month through the CESB.

Her family said Saskatchewan has agreed with them that she should set aside $500 for tax purposes (it is taxable income). In the end, Rosnes’s father, Colin Rosnes, confirmed his daughter is getting a very small top-up through SAID to bring her payments back up to just over $1,500.

That monthly income falls short of what she needs to cover off her bills and growing debt load, Colin Rosnes said, noting that’s where that supplemental income she can’t earn this year comes in.

“If they don’t allow this exemption, I’m not sure where that money is going to come from,” he said.

Colin Rosnes said he reached out to his MLA in June about the situation. In a voicemail response shared with Global News, Moose Jaw North representative Warren Michelson told him he was “not out any money.”

“It lessens the expense to the social services if the amount of money is coming from another source is the reasoning behind it,” Michelson said.

Global News reached out to Michelson’s office for comment, but did not hear back.

Doris Morrow, the executive director of income assistance for Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Social Services, said in an email statement that programs like the CESB are intended to be wage-replacement programs and doubled down that they “will be deducted from income assistance benefits dollar-for-dollar.”

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Read more: Coronavirus — Saskatchewan post-secondary student unions say more emergency funds needed

“They’re supposed to be allowing her the ability to get ahead and become self-sustaining, but by doing this, in my opinion, in our opinion, they’re actually putting her further in the hole,” Colin Rosnes said.As a parent, he fears for his daughter’s financial future. He works as a chef and his wife as the director of a non-profit. They’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars they didn’t have on their daughter’s therapies and dedicated countless hours advocating to improve her situation.His wife, Nancy Rosnes, said they just want to know that Shaylee will be OK when one day they can’t be there for her in person.“Life without a struggle is all we want for her,” Nancy Rosnes said.For now, Shaylee Rosnes needs disability income assistance to continue to live in long-term care, where her complex medical needs can be met. She said she’s pursuing her education (albeit with hefty student loans) so that she can get a job to support herself in the future because she doesn’t want to have to rely on SAID and live her life on the poverty line.“My financial situation is unnecessarily complicated,” Shaylee Rosnes said. “Backwards is a good word.“Most people probably don’t even think to fight the system and I’ve been doing it for probably as long as I’ve been alive.”