Higher household income leads to better health. This means that having a higher household income provides an individual with more opportunities for a healthy lifestyle such as the ability to afford stable housing, nutritious foods/diet, and to take medications as prescribed by a Primary Care Provider.
Low income should be treated like any other major health risk. Recently, Prairie Mountain Health (PMH) has initiated the Get Your Benefits project to assist residents within PMH to receive benefits they are eligible for. Household income levels rise with these benefits. A crucial element of this project is for practitioners such as Physicians, Nurses, and Clinicians to screen clients for low income encourage them to file income taxes and access financial literacy supports. Essentially, accessing supports and filing taxes increases individuals’ socio-economic status with eligible benefits.
A Clinical Tool for Primary Care Providers has been developed for practitioners to connect their clients to government financial benefits and community resources that are available to them. The clinical tool has three sections. The first section "Screen Everyone" starts with a validated screening question "Do you ever have difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month?" Living on a low income is not always apparent and it is recommended that practitioners ask everyone.
The second section of the tool recognizes that low income is a medical risk factor for many health conditions. This tool gives practitioners an evidence based diagnosis of the social illness – low income – and provides tangible suggestions on how to treat it.
Lastly, the third section of the tool focuses on interventions. It suggests that practitioners ask everyone the question "Have you filled out and sent in your tax forms?" The clinical tool gives information on benefits, resources, and services that are available for clients and their families.
Tax returns are required to access many government benefits such as the GST credit, Canada child benefit, working income tax benefit, and property tax credit. PMH has collaborated with community members to provide a program called the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP). This program eliminates the barrier of cost for filing income tax returns.
For those who qualify, the CVITP program allows PMH residents to file their income taxes free at no cost. For more information on this program and for a comprehensive list of community sites offering the CVITP within PMH, please visit the PMH website. The Get Your Benefits project is pleased to partner with the CVITP program to assist in reducing the barriers of filing taxes and obtaining benefits.
Submitted by James Wigley, Community Health Facilitator, Health Promotion / Community Development with PMH.