Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos tabled a new dental care bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday to allow the government to send checks to low- and middle-income families to help pay for oral health services for their children.
If given Royal Assent, Bill C-31 would provide eligible families with children under 12 up to $650 per child each year to pay for dental care, depending on their household income. .
This benefit is part of a package of new laws aimed at easing the burden of inflation and the rising cost of living.
Bill C-31 also includes a one-time $500 supplement to the Canada Housing Benefit for families with an adjusted net income of $35,000 and single people earning less than $20,000. Applicants must pay at least 30 percent of their rent-adjusted net income to qualify.
These initiatives were included in the Liberals’ supply and confidence agreement with the NDP, in exchange for the opposition party’s promise not to call an election until 2025.
Associate Finance Minister Randy Boissonnault tabled the government’s other initiative in Bill C-30, which would double the GST credit for those who already qualify. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been calling for this change for some time.
For dental care, families with a household income of less than $90,000 must provide the Canada Revenue Agency with the name and address of their licensed dentist and the month of the scheduled appointment.
They must also certify that the child does not have private dental insurance and that they will keep their receipts.
“We hope the bill will pass quickly through the House and that all parties will support it so that eligible families and children can start receiving their benefit in 2022,” Duclos said at a press conference in the foyer of the West Block.
The government expects about 500,000 children to qualify for this benefit.
In a follow-up interview, Duclos said the $650 benefit amount was chosen carefully based on advice from experts in the field.
“The figure is there to reassure families that they will have enough resources if they go in and take their children to the dentist,” he said.
Eligible families will be able to request more money if the benefit does not cover all of their child’s dental costs.
Health Canada officials, who provided a briefing on condition they were not named, say families will not be penalized if they do not use the full amount.
However, families who provide false information, cannot provide receipts, or don’t use any of the money for dental care could face a fine of up to $5,000.
The Canada Revenue Agency can, on a balance of probabilities, give families a pass if they unknowingly break the rules, an agency representative said at the briefing.
Duclos said ARC is used to using “not just the rigor, but also the judgment and humanity that are sometimes needed to work with populations who may feel vulnerable and marginalized.”
Although the program is intended for people who do not have private insurance, those who are covered by provincial, territorial and even federal governments can still apply as long as they can prove that they have paid dental expenses. .
Duclos said the government was keen to disrupt Canada’s dental care landscape, which is made up of a patchwork of provincial and private plans, but said he believed the risk was minimal.
“There is currently a very small presence of public, provincial and territorial dental care in Canada,” he said, explaining that only about 4% of dental spending comes from provinces and territories.
Duclos said the department aims to roll out a full-fledged dental care program by 2023.
“This temporary Canadian dental benefit is just the beginning.
—Laura Osman, The Canadian Press