Liberals vague on verification criteria for new federal dental-care benefit

The money will be provided upfront, before the child sees the dentist, and parents won’t have to automatically submit receipts or return any unused money, officials said

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OTTAWA— The federal Liberal government said Tuesday its new dental-care benefit will provide upfront payments to qualifying families before they take children to a dentist appointment, but the details of how the government will verify that the money is used for dental care remained unclear.

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The new two-year Canada Dental Benefit will provide $650 a year per family, for two years, to cover the cost of dental care for uninsured children whose families earn less than $70,390 a year. Families that earn between $70,390 and $90,000 can receive either $390 or $260, depending on their income.

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The government will provide the money up front, before the qualifying child sees a dentist, and parents who apply won’t have to automatically submit receipts or return any money not spent on dental care, government officials said during a technical briefing Tuesday.

Families will be asked to provide information about when they plan to take the child to the dentist and the contact information of a dentist or dental hygienist. They will then be issued the funds within three to five days.

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Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters Tuesday that there will be “measures to monitor and enforce the rules that must be followed” for Canadians to have access to the benefit.

He added that $650 might “seem like a lot of money” but may not be when it comes to the cost of dental care. He said it might be a “modest start” in cases where a child is seeing a dentist for the first time ever.

Parents who meet the criteria will be able to apply through the Canada Revenue Agency. They will be asked to confirm that they don’t have private dental insurance, and provide the name of their employer, which officials said would be one of the ways CRA can verify whether the individual has private insurance or not.

Families will not have to automatically submit their receipts for the dental care, but will need to provide proof if the CRA asks for it later, as well as proof of other eligibility criteria. If parents have unused money after the dentist, they will not be required to return it.

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Duclos’ office referred questions asking for more details about the government’s verification measures to Health Canada, who in turn said the questions should be pointed to the Canada Revenue Agency. The CRA did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

The dental-care program is the centerpiece of the Liberals’ supply and confidence agreement with the NDP, which stipulates the NDP will support the minority Liberal government and keep it in power until 2025. The deal envisages a dental-care program that would be available to families with an annual income of less than $90,000 and be fully implemented by 2025. Duclos said the two-year program the government detailed Tuesday is temporary, and will be followed by a “a comprehensive longer-term dental-care program.”

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“We hope that the proposed legislation 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,” he said.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters his party wasn’t concerned about being flexible on how the first phase of the program would be structured, “in exchange for ironclad commitments of…a federally administered dental plan that would cover Canadians for the second phase and beyond.”

Conservative MPs said Tuesday they were concerned more government spending will drive inflation. Michael Barrett said the Conservatives will have an opportunity to look at the text of the bills the government introduced Tuesday at its party caucus meeting tomorrow. “It’s important that any measures that the government takes is going to help Canadians but also is (not) going to drive up the cost of living,” he said.

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Pierre Paul-Hus said “what is clear for us, is that there are often measures that are inflationary. We’ll analyze it more clearly to see if there is a positive impact for citizens.”

The dental-care program is one of two bills meant to provide support for lower-income Canadians the Liberal government introduced on the first day of the parliamentary session Tuesday. If passed, the legislation will also double the GST credit for six months and provide a one-time $500 increase to the Canada Housing Benefit.

All three measures will cost a total of $4.5 billion, of which $3.1 billion is new money in addition to what was already outlined in the 2022 federal budget. The dental benefit will cost $938 million, money that the government allocated in the budget in April.

Associate finance minister Randy Boissonnault said Tuesday that’s not enough to drive up inflation. He said spending of just over $3 billion compared to a $2.6 to $2.7 trillion economy is “like throwing a stone in the lake. The lake doesn’t flood and that’s what we’re being very careful to do.”

— With additional reporting from Catherine Lévesque

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