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Tax credit to benefit active children

Up to $500 per child for approved activities, effective Jan. 1

By Andrew Mitchell

Note to parents of active children: start keeping your receipts.

Effective Jan. 1, parents of children under the age of 16 will be able to claim up to $500 per child, per year on fees paid for participation in approved sports and fitness activities.

Known as the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, parents may claim the registration fees they pay to enroll their children in activities that meet the federal government eligibility standards, which were announced December after several months of review by a panel of experts. There’s no definitive list of sports and activities that qualify, but rather a definition that each application for the credit will be weighed against at tax time.

“Studies show that regular physical activity has many positive effects on children, including balanced growth and development and improved physical fitness,” said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty when announcing the tax credit. “This measure will help parents offset some of the costs associated with these activities and start children down the road to a lifetime of healthy, active living.”

Sports like hockey and soccer will be included, as well as other sports that build cardio-respiratory endurance and at least one of the following: muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and endurance. Parents can submit their receipts when completing their 2007 taxes to receive the credit.

Frequency and duration are important to meet qualification standards, as programs must run for at least eight weeks with one session per week. There are exceptions for intensive programs like sports camps and summer camps where children are enrolled for a minimum of five consecutive days and spend at least half their time doing physical activities.

For children under 10, qualified sports need to include at least 30 minutes of sustained moderate to vigorous physical activity, while children 10 and over have to be active for 60 minutes — the minimum daily exercise recommended in Canada’s Physical Activity Guides for Children and Youth. Activities that require the use of motorized vehicles are excluded.

As well, there is a component of the program for children under the age of 18 with disabilities allowing for an additional $500 in tax credits. That exception recognizes the added costs for equipment, travel and attendant care that is sometimes required to participate in sports and activities.

Jan Budge, president of Whistler Gymnastics and a mother of two competitive gymnasts, says the credit will be very helpful for her family as well as the families of other club members.

“It’s something we learned about before the New Year, and we’ll be bringing it up at the next board meeting,” she said. “It’s something we’re definitely interested in exploring.”

Sheila Mozes, who helps coordinate Whistler’s KidSport program, says the information is being made available to local clubs and organizations, with B.C. Parks and Recreation and Sports B.C. sending out notices to make them aware of the new tax credit, as well as providing details how to apply it.

Not all parents are enthusiastic about the plan. Some parents were concerned about the inclusion of some activities that are lower impact, or about financing for individual sports. For example, a child who is active in a sport like mountain biking or running may not be part of any club or organization and will not be able to claim the credit.

One group started a petition to have the tax credit expanded to include programs like art, music, theatre, education, and culture.

The Conservative government first announced the tax credit in its 2006 budget, just as the Canadian Community Health Survey published a report suggesting that obesity rates among children had more than doubled in the past 25 years for some age groups. Approximately eight per cent of Canadian children aged two to 17 — roughly half a million children — were obese in 2004, while approximately 29 per cent of children aged 12 to 17 were overweight.

It is estimated that obesity, which leads to a variety of health conditions, costs over $2 billion a year and the cost is rising annually.