CBC Investigates / Mom of terminally ill boy fights order to repay $31K in social assistance

Samantha Monaghan to battle Nova Scotia government in court after it said she had unreported income.

The Nova Scotia mother of a terminally ill boy is taking her fight with the Department of Community Services to court after the government kicked her off social assistance and ordered her to repay more than $31,000.

The department notified Samantha Monaghan of its decision last October, saying she breached the rules by a “failure to provide information, misrepresentation and nondisclosure of facts,” according to documents filed in an appeal of the decision. Monaghan, who said nearly every cent she has goes toward treatment for her ailing six-year-old son, has since declared bankruptcy and now faces eviction from her Halifax townhouse as unpaid rent and bills pile up.

“I just feel like I’m unfairly judged,” Monaghan said as she cradled her son, Luc LeBlanc, in her arms. “I’m just trying to keep him alive.”

Luc has a severe brain disorder called polymicrogyria as well as fumarase deficiency, which affects the normal growth of his cells. Both conditions are extremely rare. Doctors originally gave the boy two years to live. 

Monaghan, who said she cannot work because Luc requires 24/7 care, had been receiving $1,800 a month in assistance from the Department of Community Services until payments stopped last fall.

She unsuccessfully appealed the department’s decision to the independent Assistance Appeal Board in May before taking the matter to court. Appeal documents show the department cited “undeclared cash banking activity” and unreported monthly child-support payments between January 2014 and June 2016, along with a $15,000 insurance settlement, as reasons for her overpayment bill of $31,870.29.

“All assistance payments to Ms. Monaghan in and after January 2014 were effectively paid to an ineligible recipient and therefore comprise an overpayment,” the Assistance Appeal Board said in rejecting Monaghan’s appeal.

Monaghan is seeking to have the board’s decision quashed, according to documents filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. The documents name the appeal board and the minister of community services.

Monaghan said the extra banking activity was fundraising donations to help pay for her son’s treatment and the $15,000 settlement was for his injuries in a car accident. 

She argued she regularly provided the department with bank statements but those deposits were never questioned. She also said her caseworker knew about the child support from an ex spouse.

Department’s response
The Department of Community Services declined an interview request but issued a statement speaking to the generalities of how an overpayment could be determined.

“Large overpayment accounts can be the result of retroactive payments from sources such as Workers’ Compensation or Canada Pension Plan that cover the same time period for which income assistance was provided; or as a result of unreported information (changes in living arrangements, income, insurance settlements, assets, etc.),” said spokesperson Krista Higdon. She added the department is prepared to consider all documentation and adjust an overpayment amount if warranted.

Undeclared money
Monaghan’s lawyer, Barry Mason, argued the insurance settlement money should never have been classified as income.

“This is money for the benefit of Luc so he can get treatment so he can function a little better,” he said. “For Community Services to take the step to say there was an overpayment because of that $15,000 in my view is completely wrong, and really is punishing the family for medical expenses that Luc is incurring through no fault of his own.”

Alternative therapy
At only 26 pounds, Luc requires a feeding tube and is on a strict diet of raw food and high-fat oils.

Monaghan said different forms of therapy such as massage, chiropractic treatment, osteopathy and acupuncture have helped improve his daily function, but she doesn’t have coverage.

“The reason I do alternative therapies is because traditional medicine wasn’t working for him and it was just putting him in the hospital more,” she said.

Monaghan said Luc has gone from having about 100 seizures a day to half a dozen because of alternative treatments, including cannabis oil.
The regimen comes at a high cost though, especially now that Monaghan has lost monthly assistance. She said she’s living off the child tax credit and $800 monthly from a division of Community Services that provides funding to families to support a child with a disability at home.

She said her other two children, 12 and 15, are sometimes left hungry because she’s using all of their money on Luc’s care.

“It’s just really expensive to be able to afford to feed everybody on what I’m getting,” said Monaghan. “That goes towards his nursing care and the rest of his food, so there’s nothing left once I pay my car and I put gas in the car and I feed everybody.”

Click here to see original article wirtten by Angela MacIvor, CBC News

December 5, 2017