How to get an iPad when you can’t afford it

How  many of you tried to buy an iPad (or other expensive device) using the 20% equipment budget from your BC Autism Funding? You had to:

  • Send in a Justification Form signed by your Consultant
  • Wait for approval
  • Buy the device
  • Submit a Reimbursement for Autism Expenses form
  • Wait for the funds from the BC government

That’s fine for those who can afford to pay upfront and wait for reimbursement, but it leaves the others in a Catch 22 situation.  The result is that the families who most need the device simply can’t purchase it.

Now there is a solution using London Drugs throughout B.C. You will need to follow these steps:

  • Get your Consultant to fill out a Justification for Equipment (JFE) form specifying the model number from London Drugs.
  • Send the form to the Autism Funding Unit (AFU).
  • Wait for the AFU to send a confirmation letter.
  • Fill out the RTP – Service Providers/Suppliers form.
  • Take the RTP and authorization letter to London Drugs and try to find a manager who knows about this program. You may have to try different locations or call London Drugs headquarters for help.
  • The manager will fill out Part B of the form and send it to the AFU.
  • The family will get a message that their computer/iPad is ready for pick up.

I have been told that the entire process will take about three months. If you have difficulty finding a London Drugs store that understands the process, I understand the Cloverdale and South Surrey stores are very accommodating.

Note that the AFU will only allow you to get a new device once every three years.  You can also expect push back if the device you select is too expensive (at least according to the AFU). How much is too expensive?  That is a good question and one that I don’t have an answer to.

Also, please do not use school as a reason for buying the device as the AFU will not approve this.  Your Consultant should be aware of the appropriate words to use.

OK, so that is all a bit exhausting and time consuming, but at least there is now an option for those that need it.

 

Finally! Online Access to the AFU

Families have been complaining for years that they did not have timely access to their child’s autism funding.  Some unscrupulous therapists have taken advantage of this fact to extract more funding than the families intended.

The Autism Funding Unit (AFU) has now joined the 21st century. Finally, families can:

  • View and manage their child’s funding
  • View and edit approved authorizations and
  • Submit forms online

The procedure to sign up is only slightly painful.

  • First, you need to sign up for a Basic BCeID 
  • Ensure the parent signing up has signing authority for the autism funding
  • Next, sign up for My Family Services
  • After the AFU gives their approval, you will be able to log into My Family Services.

On the My Family Services dashboard, you will be able to access and manage your child’s autism funding.

Welcome News From The BC Government

Yes, it’s true! The BC government has actually done something positive for a change.

At present, adults who are receiving the Persons with Disability (PWD) pension, are faced with the burden of asset limits.  You may remember from previous posts that the government would claw back PWD payments until a person’s total assets fell below $5,000 (with some exclusions).

The net result of PWD claw backs meant that any gifts or inheritances to the disabled individual could result in a net zero financial gain.  How frustrating it must have been to gift money to a disabled person only to have the government take back that gift for their own purposes.

Some families were able to dodge the issue by setting up trusts for their children.  The downside to trusts is that they can be difficult to set up and administer, putting them out of reach for the average family.

The BC government has now increased the asset limitation to $100,000 ($200,000 for a couple). This means you can gift money to a disabled adult or have them inherit money without the threat of a PWD claw back.

The new asset limit combined with a Registered Disposability Saving Plan (RDSP) which is exempt from the $100,000 limit, means that the vast majority of families will no longer need to worry about setting up a trust.

My hat is off to the BC government for doing the right thing.  Now if they could just work on raising the PWD payments from the level that is well below the poverty line…….

Service Provider Portal

The Service Provider Portal is a new online invoicing system (for the Autism Funding Unit) designed to streamline the payments to service providers.  As a parent there are some things that you need to know.

The Good

Service providers have the right to be paid on time and this goes a long way to making that happen.  Instead of submitting a paper invoice, they complete the online form and are paid almost immediately. It also allows the service provider to see when a Request to Pay (RTP) or a Request to Amend (RTA) has been processed, and the system keeps a running total of how much funding is left.

The Bad

A paper invoice for the family is not required. The service portal will not accept an excel invoice which most Behaviour Consultants (BC) have used for their invoicing in the past.  It may be tempting for a minority of service providers to not provide a separate invoice for their clients, leaving them out of the loop.

The Ugly

In my experience most service providers are completely honest and ethical however as with any group of people there are always a few disreputable characters.  This new system allows fraud to occur at a much faster pace with the families unaware of what is happening until it is too late.  Sadly, MCFD has not been monitoring the RASP list and sanctioning individuals as needed.

What Can You Do?

As a parent, you must insist on monthly updates for Autism Funding Unit (AFU) billing.  This may be in the form of an invoice or a detailed list of hours and hourly rates. It is imperative that you monitor this and contact the AFU the minute you realize that fraudulent billing is taking place. You also need to be aware that the service provider may  cancel or amend their invoice after the fact.

The moment you suspect fraudulent billing is taking place, you must contact the AFU and amend the RTP form to stop further charges. The feedback that I have been getting is that once the money is gone, you are not getting it back.

Could It Happen In B.C.?

There is an outrageous story out of Quebec and Prince Edward Island about the clawback of funds saved by family members for their disabled children. The mean spirited governments in question should hang their heads in shame over what they are doing.

You should read the CBC Story before finishing this post.

The issues in question are about the governments denying disability benefits to individuals even though the savings are invested in a Hensen Trust or a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). Most provinces (including B.C.) set strict limits on the amount of savings that a person can possess before the government will cease disability payments. The payments resume only after the savings amount falls below the threshold.  In B.C. the limit is $5,000 with some exceptions. The important difference is that in B.C., Hensen Trusts and RDSP payments are generally (with some reasonable exceptions) exempt from triggering clawbacks.

It pains me greatly to say this government did something right, but on this issue they are ahead of many other provinces.  In fact B.C. was the first provincial government to announce after the RDSP launch that they would exempt payments from the plan from causing a clawback.

The answer to the title of this post is unfortunately; Yes this could happen in B.C. The disability benefits are subject to government policy and could change at any time. We must remain vigilant.

Material Funding Secrets Revealed – Part 3

We know about material funding and why we want to use it.  Now we need to smooth the process.

Remember the basic steps:

If the item in question is on the ineligible list or you think you are likely to be turned down, make an initial request and wait for the rejection from the AFU clerk.  It’s only when you appeal the decision that it will go up the food chain to someone with more authority. The sooner you initially apply, the sooner you will be rejected and the sooner you can start the appeal process. Again this is a completely bizarre procedure, but here are a few things you can do on the appeal to smooth the way:

  • Have a professional (Behaviour Consultant and/or Doctor) write a letter justifying why your child needs this piece of equipment or supplies
  • Make sure your reasoning is sound and related to the autism program

To file an appeal simply write (or email) the AFU citing the rejection and outlining your reasons why it should be allowed. Cite any relevant research and include details you feel are appropriate.

The AFU stipulates that the reimbursement forms must be received within 6 months of the date of purchase to be considered.  It’s OK for them to drag their feet and delay payment, but heaven forbid you should save your paperwork and send it all in together for the entire funding year.

It’s very easy to completely lose track of your funding with all the forms, letters and receipts coming and going.  I highly recommend that you have a tracking system in place to see how much of your funding you have left.  Please don’t leave anything on the table.  Your tracking system could be a spreadsheet or simply a piece of paper. Whatever it is, make sure you use it every time.

If you have been turned down for an item and your friend had it approved, you might consider asking them (nicely!) if you can quote their experience to the AFU.

A few other points to consider:

  • The purchase date must be within the funding year (i.e. starting the month following your child’s birthday)
  • Send in original receipts and make copies for your records
  • Save at least a few months of receipts and send them in together to lessen the paperwork (keeping in mind that the reimbursement forms must be received within 6 months of the date of purchase)

That’s the end of the 3 part series on material funding.  We would all like to hear your experiences by posting in the comments section.  Anything that you can pass on would be greatly appreciated by other parents.

Material Funding Secrets Revealed – Part 2

The previous post outlined the absurd policies of the Autism Funds Unit (AFU) when it comes to material funding.  There are only two logical explanations for such bizarre rules:

  • The government bureaucracy is trying to justify its existence and maintain a large workforce or
  • They are trying to ensure that you don’t spend your funds which are then returned to the government and undoubtedly used for bonuses for the department heads who underspend their budgets.

OK, so why bother using material funding at all?  Most people will easily fill their yearly funding allowance with behaviour intervention for their child.

One reason is if you are on a shoestring budget and simply have no money left for autism therapy, then you must somehow manage the yearly autism funds to cover intervention, training and materials.

The majority of us spend well in excess of the available autism funds.  In this case you are better off to claim the maximum allowable ($1,200 or $4,400) for material funding.  The reason is that funds spent out of your pocket for intervention can be used as a medical expense on your annual income tax.  This could result in a refund as much as 20% of the total depending on your income level.  Money spent on material goods in support of an autism therapy program are ineligible as a medical expense (Yes, this has been tested in the Tax Court of Canada).

So what can you use your funds for?  It’s a bit of a challenge to spend your entitlement, but here are some ideas:

  • Flash cards
  • Reinforcement toys
  • General supplies such as pens, pencils, paper, binders, clips, staples
  • Printers
  • Printer supplies
  • One computer or iPad or Touch Screen device every three years
  • CDs or DVDs relating to the therapy program
  • Travel to and from autism intervention (round trip greater than 80 kms) or training
  • Autism conferences
  • Computer programs (remember to justify their use) such as Microsoft Office or autism specific programs
  • iPad apps (again justify their use)
  • Arts and crafts
  • Books
  • Membership for the Canucks Autism Network

If you know of any other items that can be claimed, please let us know in the comments section.

There is no reason why your purchases must be made in Canada.  With all the high priced help in the Autism Funds Unit, I’m sure they can calculate exchange rates.

Nothing in the AFU guidance indicates that the purchase must be a new product.  As long as you have a proper receipt, I see no reason that the purchase can’t be “pre-owned”.

Next post:

  • Tips for managing material funding