By Avvy Go
Contributors Debbie Douglas, Shalini Konanur, Leila Sarangi
Thu., Feb. 25, 2021
As COVID-19 rages on, the federal government has rightly extended several emergency benefits, including the Canada Recovery Benefits (CRB) — though not to all in need.
This is welcome news for many Canadians, particularly women and racialized community members, who are among the hardest hit by the pandemic triggered economic downturn. The January 2021 Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey showed unemployment rate has increased to the highest level since August 2020, with core-age women posting the largest employment declines in the month and many racialized groups continuing to experience disproportionately higher job loss rates.
The CRB and its predecessor CERB have kept many struggling families afloat, including many migrant workers and people with precarious status, who could access these benefits with a valid work permit.
During the pandemic, the government has also made an additional one-time payment of $300 per child for families who are receiving the Canada Child Benefits (CCB) and a promise of an additional $1,200 for eligible families with children under six in 2021.
However, not every child in Canada, and not every family in need, is able to enjoy this quasi-universal benefit.
To qualify for the CCB, an applicant parent must be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, protected person, or a visitor who has lived in Canada for at least 18 months.
Excluded from accessing CCB are refugee claimants and other individuals with precarious immigrant status, even though many are working legally and filing personal income tax return. In some cases, these families have Canadian-born children, but are still denied CCB because of the parents’ immigration status.
The denial of CCB has a disproportionate impact on women who are still the primary caregivers for children in most Canadian families. Given that the vast majority of people with precarious immigration status are people from the Global South, the denial of CCB adversely affects individuals from racialized communities, who have long been overrepresented among the low income population in Canada.
The federal government has been promising since 1989 to end child poverty. Most recently, the government reprioritized this issue with the release of its national poverty reduction strategy in 2018, followed by poverty reduction legislation that received royal assent in 2019. This strategy calls for a “human rights-based approach to poverty reduction, [one that] reflect[s] principles that include universality, non-discrimination and equality, participation of those living in poverty, accountability and working together.”
Despite this, 1.3 million children, or 18.2 per cent of children, live in poverty in Canada today. Before the pandemic, in many parts of the country, that rate was on the rise.
Child poverty is more prevalent for communities marginalized by race, gender, and their immigration status.
The exclusions of CCB based on immigration status have been in our law books for many years. Former bureaucrats involved in the design of the child benefits scheme could not explain why these exclusions were introduced in the first place, other than noting that the government of the day did not anticipate that refugee claimants and others in similar situations would be working legally and filing income tax.
The CCB is a proven tool to reducing child poverty. Access to this benefit for families with precarious status is a matter of equity and justice.
As the federal government prepares for its 2021 budget, there is no better time than right now for the federal government to move swiftly. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has set forth an economic vision of an intersectional feminist and green recovery in the last fall fiscal update. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that no one will be left behind in pandemic response and recovery efforts to build back better.
But without investments to support families who are falling through the cracks, these words are empty.
People with precarious immigration status are important members of our communities. They are doing the essential work to keep us safe and the economy going.
The federal government should honour its human right obligations and stop discriminating against low-income children and families with precarious status by providing them with immediate access to the Canada Child Benefit.