Former plumber, 36, with impaired vision lives in Toronto on disability income of $16,668 – and parental help

Name: Brian

Age: 36

Annual income: $16.668

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Debt: $4,000 in student loans; $2,400 cell phone bill

Savings: $3,900 in Registered Disability Savings Plan

What he does: Apprentice plumber, now incapacitated

Where he lives: Toronto

Main financial concern: “I want to find a meaningful job to earn some money just to improve my situation, such as having my own small business cloning cannabis plants for growers and patients. I would like to find a way to buy [my parents’] house if they have to sell it, but I could never afford this.”

In 2011, Brian’s life fell into place. He had studied engineering at George Brown College and had received a coveted apprenticeship as a plumber. He was 27, worked four days a week and looked forward to a full-time career. “I was making $34 an hour,” he says. “I was pretty proud of where I was.”

Two years later, his luck ran out. “I was fired over Thanksgiving weekend,” recalls Brian, now 36. Months later, he went to get some contacts from his optometrist, who examined his eyes. The news was bad.

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“I went blind in one eye,” he says because of keratoconus, an eye disease that damages the cornea and leads to vision loss. “The [doctor] told me, ‘You can’t work anymore. You can’t drive. You must have a cornea transplant in your right eye.’”

Brian was lucky enough to have the transplant as part of a clinical trial, which saved him thousands of dollars. He then underwent surgery on his left eye to prevent blindness. But his vision is still severely affected.

“I have cluster headaches, double vision that is distorted, and my depth perception is far off,” he says. “You feel like you’re broken.”

Due to the dangers arising from his impaired eyesight, Brian is unable to work as a plumber. He receives disability benefits: $1,319 per month from Ontario’s Disability Support Plan (ODSP), a provincial program that helps disabled people with food and housing.

People on ODSP can work. They can earn up to $200 in net income per month without having their payments cut. For amounts over $200, 50 percent must be returned to the government.

Brian also receives $70 a month from the Trillium Benefit Program, which funds prescription drugs for Ontario residents who have high prescription drug costs relative to their net household income. To qualify for the program, residents must spend about 4 percent or more of annual household income after tax on prescription drugs.

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Despite his challenges, Brian says he would like to work. He is currently looking for work in a restaurant kitchen, a job he could try as it doesn’t require perfect vision and where he can work in low light conditions.

He’s been toying with going back to school but still has $4,000 in student debt. The debt collection agency called him, looking for a refund, he says. “It’s very challenging.”

The end result is that he doesn’t get enough money to cover his living expenses, so his parents give him money to make up for the difference. “My parents help a lot,” he says, something he is grateful for.

Not only do they help with medical expenses, but they also provide him with meals, laundry, and drive when he needs them. His family is currently saving for the cost of specialized contact lenses, which will cost thousands, but can help improve his vision.

Brian sometimes treats himself to money from his father. While acknowledging that he can’t really afford them, he recently bought a few meals, a $1,500 Daymak e-bike, and cannabis plants. His medical marijuana is another expense. “I spend $155 a month on weed — it’s my recipe,” he says.

He grows cannabis plants, a hobby he would like to turn into a business. “I want to find a meaningful job to earn some money just to improve my situation, like having my own small business cloning cannabis plants for growers and patients,” he says.

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Longer term, Brian contributes $108 per month to a registered disability savings plan, a vehicle that allows parents and others to save for the financial security of a disabled child. Contributions to an RDSP are not tax deductible and the federal government will match contributions if the household income is low enough. One can contribute any amount to an RDSP each year, up to the $200,000 lifetime contribution limit.

Brian would love to buy his parents’ house, but ‘I can never afford this. Even the transfer tax alone is out of reach,” he says.

“I am really grateful for what I do have. And so thankful for having loving, supportive, smart parents. But I should take care of them – not those who take care of me.”

His typical monthly expenses:

$975 about rent and utilities. “My rent goes up by 1 percent every year. It is a one bedroom apartment that is not located in a basement. I’m quite lucky.”

$0 on the renter’s insurance. “Rental insurance is quoted at $550-$700, which I can’t afford, but I’ll have to get it somehow.”

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$0 on laundry. “When I do the laundry, I go to my parents and do it. It’s one of the ways I save money.”

$108.30 to his Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) account.

$74 on groceries. “After all, I have $74 for food. My mom bakes a lot. And my parents make me some extra meals – I only buy vegetables. It gets pretty tight. I stopped eating junk food.”

$65 about eating out. “I don’t really eat out. I had Ali Baba’s on Saturday and it was $20. These little things add up.”

$50 on a transit pass.

$0 on a gym membership. “I cycle for my fitness.”

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$155 on cannabis. “I get a lot of cluster headaches. I smoke weed. I have my medical marijuana license.”

$259 about hobbies: “My current hobby is gardening my cannabis plants. It’s not exactly cheap, but it does save me money in the end. [I buy] clones, soil, feed and tools.”

$0 on hairstyles. “I’ve stopped using it since the pandemic and have cut my own hair and don’t see myself paying for a more expensive haircut in the future.”

$25 on mobile. “I’m with Primus.”

$55 on the Web.

$16.70 on clothes. “I buy clothes according to need, such as shoes, pants, socks and briefs. I buy at the points of sale [Toronto’s] Orfus Road, that’s the best way to look beautiful.”

The name and some details may have been changed to protect the profiled person’s privacy. We want to thank him for sharing his story.

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