Financial advisor Terry Brown (left), Barb Van Santen and just some of her many foster kids. Brown recently helped Van Santen get the $1,200 BC Training and Education Savings Grant for eight children. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Free $1,200 grants going unclaimed by thousands in B.C.

Chilliwack financial advisor banging the drum to get parents to sign up before it’s too late

In our increasingly cynical post-modern age, a Chilliwack financial advisor is desperate to explain to thousands of parents that, yes, there is such thing as a free lunch.

Terry Brown says he’s felt about 15 per cent satisfaction and 85 per cent frustration as he bangs the drum on social media and face-to-face to encourage parents of children born after 2006 to take the government up on a free $1,200 grant.

And not enough people are listening as much fewer than half of eligible children have received the B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant (BCTESG) across the province.

According to Education Minister Rob Fleming, as of March 31, 104,030 children received the grant for a total of more than $125 million in allocations.

Sounds good? Not for Brown because that means there are 176,000 kids not enrolled leaving $211 million on the table. And as of July 4, there will be just 41 days until the last day to apply for kids born in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

That’s approximately $90 million for 75,000 kids disappearing.

“I’m running out of new ways to say the same thing: empty RESP accounts are free, and free money is available,” Brown said.

“It’s free money for kids. It takes 15 minutes out of your day to bring in $1,200.”

Here’s how it works. To be eligible for the $1,200 BCTESG, a parent’s child must be born in 2006 or later, the parent and the child must be residents of British Columbia, and the child must be the beneficiary of a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) with a participating financial institution (virtually all banks and credit unions).

So why are parents letting this money go unclaimed? Brown’s not entirely sure but he’s trying to educate people. Whether it’s simply a lack of information, confusion about the program, or broader poor financial literacy, it’s just not happening.

Barb Van Santen is a Chilliwack mother and has been a foster mother to more than 30 kids over the years, mostly Indigenous. Brown recently helped her collect the $1,200 grant for eight kids last year. That’s $9,600 in free cash, not including other federal grants available.

Van Santen said she’s also been screaming from the rooftops about the program, and she’s as baffled as Brown by parents who won’t sign up.

“I don’t understand why people don’t want to do it,” Van Santen said at her Chilliwack home amid the chaos of more than half a dozen children playing, reading and peeling potatoes.

“I started telling everybody. It’s dumb that people don’t want it. It costs you nothing.”

Part of the issue she thinks, and this is something Brown has come up against, is that people seem to think “somebody is going to make money off it.”

Brown was first triggered to the program by a handout his daughter brought home from Watson elementary in Spring 2016 under the headline: “Parents are missing out on free money.”

For two years he’s given talks. He recently made videos and created a Facebook page dedicated to the cause.

Yet sometimes he is met not only with confusion or ambivalence, but outright hostility. He posted the information in one Parent Advisory Council group on Facebook only to be kindly asked to remove the post. Information about free money, why?

“The person said, ‘It’s unfortunate but a lot of families can’t afford it,’” he said.

It’s. Free. Money.

Brown brought info to his children’s school’s principal and he knew nothing about the program (despite being the source of the 2016 handout). He even went and spoke to the Chilliwack district school board, a presentation he said seemed well received.

“But I wanted them to do something. I got a lot of pats on the back on the way out the door, but nothing happened.”

There are those suspicious that Brown is in this to make money, but his fee for setting up an RESP is peanuts and he doesn’t want you to go to him, just go to your own financial institution. And that is the only hard part. An RESP is a lot of paperwork but a professional who knows what they are doing at any bank or credit union can do it in 15 minutes.

And an RESP is free to set up. Then, the BCTESG form is simple and two pages, and the next thing you know your child has $1,200 in an RESP that he or she can withdraw when they enter an accredited post-secondary program, from medicine to arts to plumbing to hairdressing.

Brown contacted Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness about his concerns, and Throness contacted Minister of Finance Carole James about the free money left on the table. Throness received a letter back from Education Minister Rob Fleming on May 14 in which Fleming outlined all the government has done since 2016 to promote the program from Tweets to mailouts to signage.

None of it is good enough for Brown, and the lack of uptake proves it.

The government has ramped up its promotion of the program, possibly because of Brown’s pestering. One day after speaking with The Progress on June 22, the government issued a press release about the BCTESG.

Then Brown got a personal email and phone call from the Ministry of Education to let him know about the release.

Someone’s paying attention, Brown just hopes enough parents get the message before the money disappears.

On Aug. 14, the money will disappear for kids born 2007, 2008 and 2009.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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