Family caregivers make many sacrifices to support their loved ones. While provincial health coverage covers most medical expenses and some of us have supplemental coverage, there are still many additional expenses that we end up being responsible for covering on our own.
Perhaps you’ve taken time off work, reduced your working hours, switched to a less demanding job, or had to leave work entirely. Not only are you missing out on income, you’re missing out on future retirement benefits.
Aside from programs that provide direct income to family care providers, there are also programs to reduce your expenses or provide other financial supports.
What kind of financial support is available for family caregivers in Canada?
There are few programs in Canada that provide direct income to people who are providing care to a family member on a long-term basis. Most caregiver benefits take the form of non-refundable tax credits, which only benefit people who earn enough money to have a taxable income in the first place.
You likely qualify for temporary income replacement through EI and protected from being penalized for taking time off to care for your family members.
It’s also likely that you can find assistance paying for incidental medial costs not covered by provincial insurance and modifications to make your home accessible, like installing ramps, widening doorways, and bathroom renovations.
Who qualifies for caregiver support programs?
Most programs providing income and financial support for family caregivers require that the person receiving care require assistance with the activities of daily living. These include:
- Feeding (eating prepared foods, drinking, etc)
- Grooming/foot care/personal care (brushing teach, shaving, brushing hair, trimming nails, etc)
- Toileting (incontinence, requiring assistance to use the toilet, etc)
- Taking medication
- Mobility (adjusting the position of their body, sitting and standing on their own, climbing stairs, walking, etc)
Ways to find financial support for family caregivers
In addition to reading this guide to see what services are available, you can get personalized help if you:
- Call 211 or use 211 services online
- Use the CRA Federal Benefits Finder tool
- Speak with a social worker
While there are many organizations providing support for caregivers across Canada, most of these programs, like The Caregiver Space, don’t provide direct financial support.
Canadian family caregiver support
These programs are available to family caregivers in all or most of Canada.
If you’re providing care for a family member who is at risk of dying within six months, you may qualify for compassionate care benefits through EI for up to 26 weeks. There is the option to extend benefits for up to a year and share it with other members of your family who are serving as caregiver with you. To qualify, you have to show that your earnings have declined by at least 40%. You also must meet regular EI requirements. If you’re already collecting EI you may still qualify for compassionate care benefits.
You may be eligible for up to 35 weeks of EI in order to take time off work and provide care for a critically ill or injured child.
Employment Insurance: Family Caregiver Benefit for Adults
If you need to take time off of work to care for an adult family member, you may qualify for up to 15 weeks of EI.
If you didn’t realize you were eligible for this credit last year, you can claim it retroactively.
The disability tax credit adjusts the amount of taxes people with disabilities (or their family members with whom they share finances) pay in taxes to account for the additional costs they face. The CRA website lists the amount for current and previous years. This is a non-refundable tax credit.
If you are the family caregiver of a child who qualifies for the disability tax credit, you may qualify for the CDB.
You qualify for the medical expenses tax credit if expenses exceeded 3% of your annual income. The list of qualifying medical expenses is extensive and includes things like attendant care, residential care, reconstructive surgery, foods for special diets, and medical cannabis.
If you anticipate hitting this threshold, you’ll need to track all expenses according to CRA requirements.
If you have a low income and high medical expenses, you may also be able to claim the refundable medical expense supplement.
Federal Home Accessibility Tax Credit
This is a non-refundable tax credit that goes to the person who paid for the renovation. Your renovations may simultaneously qualify for a provincial accessibility tax credit and a tax credit for medical expenses.
HELP connects people with disabilities and family caregivers with equipment that’s been donated. Equipment is available on a short-term basis for recovery and temporary situations. There are also various long-term loan programs, which differ regionally.
In order to qualify for HELP, you and the person you’re providing care to must be residents of British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, or the Yukon. The specifics of each program are different for each province, so you’ll need to contact your local Red Cross chapter for more information.
Ceridian Cares provides grants of up to $5,000 for basic essentials and quality of life needs, such as clothing, food, household necessities, medical equipment, respite services, books, and art supplies. In order to qualify, you need to demonstrate financial need. You can apply online.
Provincial family caregiver support
The only province that provides direct financial support for family caregivers is Nova Scotia. Before you get excited (or jealous) it provides a grand sum of…$400 a month.
You can reach out to your provincial government representatives (MPP, MNA or MLA) to see if there are any other programs you might qualify for. They may also provide assistance with your application.
SHARP provides low-interest loans and grants to make homes accessible and keep them in good repair. To qualify, you or your spouse must be over 65, disabled, and own your home. Only people with an income under $74k a year qualify.
There are no programs in BC to provide people serving as caregivers to a family member with an income.
Long-term care expenses in BC are limited to 80% of the resident’s income. If your spouse is in long-term care and you’re living in the community, that’s very likely to leave you impoverished if you rely on your spouse’s pension. To have your spouse’s long-term care expenses adjusted accordingly, speak to the social worker at their residential care facility.
BC Palliative Care Benefits Program & PharmaCare Plan B
Anyone who lives in BC who is in the end-stage of a terminal illness qualifies for palliative care benefits, which covers certain drugs, medical supplies, and equipment. While this is referred to as a home care program, it’s provided wherever the patient is living. To access this program ask the physician or nurse practitioner if your loved one qualifies.
Anyone living in a licensed residential care facility already has these benefits through PharmaCare Plan B.
BC Home Adaptations for Independence
HAFI provides grants and forgivable loans to improve accessibility. This program is available to both homeowners and landlords. Applications are processed on a first-come-first served basis and there’s a lifetime maximum of funds available through this program. BC Housing manages the application process.
The BC home renovation tax credit mirrors the federal home accessibility tax credit. If you qualify for the disability tax credit, you also qualify for this credit.
The maximum amount of the credit is $1,000 per tax year and is calculated as 10% of the qualifying renovation expense (maximum $10,000 in expenses). The credit is a refundable tax credit, which means if the credit is higher than the taxes you owe, you’ll receive the difference as a refund.
Previously this credit was only for seniors. It was expanded to include all people with disabilities in 2016.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Nova Scotia’s caregiver benefit provides family caregivers with a monthly income supplement for people providing 20+ hours of support per week. To see if you qualify, you need to call Continuing Care at 1-800-225-7225.
Ontario’s FML does not replace your income, but it allows you to take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave to provide care to a family member without losing your job.
Personal emergency leave in Ontario only covers 10 days of protected leave a year, the first two of which are usually paid.
In Ontario, you’re eligible for respite services at no cost or low cost. The number of hours you qualify for depend on an assessment of your family member’s needs. Respite care can be provided at a day program, in a residential care facility, or in your home.
Services can be provided in your home, but only if your home is determined to be properly outfitted for care to be provided safely. If you’re making do with a home that’s not appropriate for your family member’s mobility needs or lacks appropriate equipment, you won’t be able to access this service.
Respite care will cover up to 60 days of care at a time in residential care, up to a maximum of 90 days per calendar year. While they cover services to replace the care you provide while someone is in residential care, this program doesn’t cover the actual room and board for the care home.
There is typically a fee associated for each day your family member attends a respite care day program.
Available respite care services include:
- Personal assistance for activities of daily living;
- Housekeeping, laundry, and food preparation; and
- Professional services like nursing and physio.
To enroll in respite care services, you will need to request an assessment from your Local Health Integration Network. If you don’t qualify, your LHIN can help you find paid respite care services.
The Ontario ADP provides funding for a range of assistive devices for those who need them for a period of six-months or more. They cover 75% of the cost, while you (or the patient) are responsible for 25% of the cost. They can connect you with other organizations to assist with the portion of the cost you’re responsible for if you are unable to pay.
Prince Edward Island
RAAP provides three programs providing grants to increase home accessibility: professional support (for major renovations), self-determined needs and work (for minor adaptations like a ramp install or door widening), and retroactive financial assistance (for minor adaptations that have already been completed). The program is managed by the Société d’Habitation du Québec.
If you’re providing care to a military veteran, you likely qualify for financial support and other programs. If you’d like someone to talk you through what you might qualify for, you can go to a VAC office or call 1-866-522-2122.
You’ll need a case manager to confirm that the care recipient qualifies you for the program and then you can apply online or through the mail.
This program replaces the Family Caregiver Relief Benefit.
The Veterans Independence Program provides financial support for veterans with disabilities. These include personal support, nutrition programs, health care costs, long-term care, transportation, home modifications, and more.
If your care recipient qualifies for the VIP program, you can apply online or through the mail.
The Veterans Independence Program for primary caregivers provides annual financial support for housekeeping and groundskeeping assistance.
If your care recipient qualifies for the VIP program, you can apply online or through the mail.
Other caregiver support programs
Some employers provide paid or unpaid leave for family caregiving responsibilities.
If your employer provides supplemental insurance, this program may cover certain caregiving expenses.
Your human resources manager, benefits manager, or union representative will be able to tell you if you have access to these benefits.
What if none of these programs will help you?
Even if you can’t get paid to serve as a family caregiver, you may be eligible for programs that will cover adult day services, in-home support, or other ways to ease the financial burden.
You may qualify for other support programs that aren’t specifically for caregivers, including cash assistance, food subsidies, and affordable housing. You can talk to a social worker, local librarian, or use the benefits finder tool to learn more.
If you’re 65 or over, you may qualify for assistance with housing costs and other types of support for seniors.
Social service and disease specific organizations
There are numerous organizations that provide grants or emergency assistance to families. Many of these are specific to location, employment history, and condition. Some organizations will provide grants for rent, mortgages, and utilities. Other organizations provide support for food, medication, supplies, and grants for home modifications to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
Each agency has its own eligibility requirements, so you will need to search online by specific needs, contact a local social worker, or discuss it with hospital staff. International social service organizations include the Lions, Kiwanis, and Rotary. Charity Village has a directory of social service organizations around Canada as does Canada Helps.
Many family caregivers juggle full-time paid employment and full-time unpaid care responsibilities. Some companies are more caregiver-friendly than others. Your company may allow you to work part-time, have flexible hours, work from home, or provide additional time off. Or they may not.
Getting help is possible
It isn’t easy and it isn’t enough, but help is out there.
Do you use one of these programs? Have you tried to enroll? Is there another program we should know about? Please let us know in the comments.