This 34-year-old is struggling to eat on his $1,169 monthly disability income. He also has $50,000 in debt. What can I do?

For Brian, every single day is a struggle—even when it comes to having enough food to eat.

As a disabled person, Brian, 34, isn’t able to work and spends 23.5 hours in bed most days. He is relying on the $1,169 a month benefit from the Ontario Disability Support Program, living in student housing in Toronto.

“I would like to eat every day maybe twice a day. I would like to get my own clothes, instead of church donations. I want the dignity that comes with affording a basic lifestyle,” he said.

Last year, as COVID-19 continued to rage wave after wave in Ontario, Brian found himself unhoused. He considers himself lucky to now have shelter “instead of being homeless again,” but paying for it eats up a lot of his disability income from him, meaning he’s scrounging to pay for necessities.

Another huge weight? $50,000 in debt — a lot of which is for student loans. “(There’s) no point in even trying for that,” he added.

On a typical day, Brian said he usually skips lunch. “I’ll try for a medium snack in the morning, a protein shake for dinner with Dollar Store almond milk and ice cubes,” he said.

“Closer to the end of the month I fast, eating two out of three days (or less) depending how bad it gets.”

Sometimes the situation is so dire he doesn’t eat at all during the last week of the month, other than a protein shake twice a day with fiber pills.

Brian shared that he lives with “social anxiety, generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline and histrionic personality disorders, major depressive disorder and, within the past decade, bulimia and agoraphobia.”

“Looking outside makes me feel sick, I can only stand being on the deck for a few minutes,” he said.

While he was able to use part of his disability payments to pay off his debts before, he eventually couldn’t catch up, with “fees and dues and loans” becoming a cycle.

“(My) credit score was obviously destroyed by that and student loans for over a decade,” he added.

Is there any advice to give Brian in this situation? We ask him to share a week of spending to get a better idea of ​​his finances from him.

the expert: Jason Heath, managing director at Objective Financial Partners Inc. weighs in.

Brian’s situation is definitely a difficult one and presumably a reality for many disabled Canadians. It has been estimated that more than one million Canadians with disabilities live in poverty.

It is difficult to hear that he needs to skip meals and fast and one of his wishes is simply to eat every day.

Some not-for-profit organizations provide free or heavily subsidized meal delivery to people of any age who are disabled. I am not sure how this compares in cost to Brian’s modest grocery budget or protein shakes.

FP Canada’s 2022 Financial Stress Index recently found that 92 per cent of Canadians are worried about the rising cost of living and the top concern was rising grocery prices. This is obviously magnified for someone in Brian’s position.

I note his cellphone plan is modestly priced. Several carriers offer discounts for disabled customers.

Brian has a lot of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) student loan debt. If his income from him is barely enough to provide for his basic needs from month to month, I am not sure how he will ever put a dent in that loan. OSAP has a Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP) for low-income people with disabilities who may forgive debt after 10 years since full-time studies.

The recent federal budget proposed a dental care program for low-income persons living with a disability starting in 2023 with full implementation by 2025. However, Brian’s situation is complicated by his mental health challenges and hesitancy to leave his home. The pandemic has led to more services being available remotely so hopefully he is able to take advantage of video conference or phone services for his mental health support from home.

Earlier this month, the federal government reintroduced legislation to create a new Canada Disability Benefit (CDB). The intention is for this to be an enhancement to benefits that disabled Canadians are already entitled to receive as opposed to a replacement. So, the good news is that new benefits may be forthcoming for Brian.

Results: I have spent the same. Spending in week 1: $70 Spending in week 2: $70 (Nothing changes usually unless it’s a rent week.)

takeaways: “I’ve been hopeless for about four years. Not much can change,” Brian admitted. “I’ve been stunted, rotted.”

When it comes to eating, Brian said that despite the advice to go to non-profits, it’s just unaffordable and unrealistic. “I have zero money to spend. I only buy SlimFast shakes and crackers from Amazon,” he said.

“I haven’t cooked in weeks, like no oven or frying pan.”

He also pointed out how resources for those in poverty and the disabled are facing shortages. “Non-profit food banks here are overloaded,” he added. It’s gotten to the point where he’s used to not eating much, he said.

When it comes to Heath’s advice on cellphones, Brian said that he doesn’t actually have a plan, and uses a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone that connects to the internet that he pays for.

The main message he has? People who are disabled aren’t able to survive here.

“The Canadian Disability Benefit was tabled before the last election, then was dropped, then tabled again (recently) with no changes and talk of just studies. No real hope there amongst us,” Brian said.

Recently, I have started a GoFundMe to save his cat, and raised $500 for a vet bill.

“Wanted to help my cat otherwise I’d quit Twitter. It got bad on there election time and I watched the government and neighbors fail me again,” he said.

Are you a millennial living in Toronto or the GTA who needs help with saving your money? Be a part of #MillennialMoney and email [email protected]

Digital design by McKenna Deighton.

Evelyn Kwong is a Toronto-based journalist and freelance contributor to the Star’s Business section. Follow her on Twitter: @evystadium


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