Fairness for students with disabilities

Hon. Diane Finley
Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister,

In Budget 2008 your government made a series of changes to student financial assistance programs including Canada Student Grants. These changes recently came into effect this fall with some distressing consequences for students with disabilities in Vancouver East.

In previous years, students with disabilities in BC were asked to project their expected sources of income and expenses for the coming school term and the Canada Study and Canada Access Grants were allocated based on these projections.

This year, the assessment process was changed and grants were allocated based on a student’s gross income as reported in their previous tax return. This subtle shift in reporting has had devastating consequences for students.

By factoring in previous grants as income, a student on provincial disability assistance (approximately $11,000 per year in British Columbia) who received the Canada Study and Canada Access Grants in previous semesters would not qualify for the Canada Student Grant High Needs/ Part-time this semester because their previous grant “income” pushes them above the $14,100 threshold. This new formula for calculating assistance almost certainly ensures that students will miss out on desperately needed assistance at least one semester a year.

In addition, this new change in reporting fails to take into consideration students whose financial circumstances may change due to job loss. One’s previous gross income is not the only indicator of their future need. In fact, it is very common for

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students to take a significant cut in finances as they reduce their work hours to enter post-secondary education.

Given the significance of these changes on students applying for Canada Student Grants, I urge you to re-examine the reporting process for students and introduce an appeal process for the grants. Our most vulnerable students with disabilities are being disqualified from the program.

Yours Sincerely,

Libby Davies, MP
Vancouver East

c.c. Niki Ashton, MP, NDP Spokesperson Post-Secondary Education

This Open Letter to Ministers & Public Officials was posted on September 17, 2009
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