Elderly woman waiting in a parking lot

88,000 Seniors cut off from GIS

According to North Island – Powell River MP Rachel Blaney more than 88,000 seniors are being cut off from the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) they received prior to the pandemic. She said this statistic originated with the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Hundreds of people have called Blaney’s office about this, including “people from Campbell River, Comox Valley, Powell River, Quadra Island, Port McNeill.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s every community. This is a widespread issue,” explained Blaney.

She sent Cortes Currents links to Facebook messages from three seniors in the riding.

“I’m a 71 year old senior, and, this July, I got my old age pensions and that was just under $1,000 shorter than it usually is.  Before they took that away, we were making out – not too bad. We were comfortable. Now by the time we pay our rent, Shaw bill and hydro,  it leaves us, for the  month – barely $200 for food and other stuff,” said David (Lovett?).

Ranka (Burzan?) from Powell River said her GIS expired in June:

“Leaving me $1,000 basically to pay my rent and nothing else. So if I have to buy medication, which I need, I have to go without food. That’s the reality for me now. I’m trying my best to stay positive and believe our government that will do right thing, but every time my daughter applied for CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit), I was approved. So I was under the impression that I would be allowed to collect these benefits without having to pay them back.”

Sixty-three year old Indra (Ban?) has physical disabilities which makes it impossible for her to work.

“This loss of income for us has been devastating. We now have to really budget our money and half the time I don’t have enough money for groceries because the price of groceries is going way up.”

Question period Dec 2, 2021

Kamal Khera, the new Canadian Minister for Seniors, has spoken about this issue on a number of occasions. 

One of the most eloquent was probably during Question Period on December 2, 2021. In the Youtube video of this exchange, all of the Liberal seats surrounding Kemal are vacant. While the camera does not show the NDP seats, Blaney’s remarks are accompanied by applause which is not present when the minister speaks.

Khera is a registered nurse, who volunteered to help vaccinate the seniors in Brampton – one of the senior homes, in Ontario, where COVID 19 was reported among the residents.

Screenshot of Kamal Kerah, Minister of Seniors, taken from video above

“One of the first things we did as a government, when we got elected in 2015 is to reduce the eligibility of OAS back to 65 from 67. The Conservatives had attempted to raise the age of retirement and take money out of the pockets of Canadians who need retirement income to make ends meet,” explained Khera.

The Minister pointed out that her government increased the amount seniors receive through their Canada Pension Plan (CPP), raised the GIS for single seniors, and will provide a one-time $500 payment for older seniors this year. Starting next year, they will be increasing Old Age Security benefits for seniors 75 and older.

“When it comes to the CERB and GIS issue, Mr. Speaker, and I want to remind the honourable member once again, as I mentioned, we’re aware of this issue. We know it has been hard on some seniors this year, and I can assure the honourable member that we’re working on this issue to find the right solution to support those that are affected,” she said.

Question period Dec 9, 2021

To which Blaney replied, “There are many seniors across this country that are in a total point of crisis. They are going to lose their homes. They are being evicted right now. They cannot afford their medication, which means they’re in and out of the hospital because they’re getting sicker. Seniors use their pandemic funds to fix their cars, fix their teeth, pay off a little bit of debt. This is taking so long that we’re punishing the poorest, while we’re rewarding the wealthiest. This should not be a debate within this house. I am totally embarrassed. This government needs to do better by the seniors who built this country.” 

Blaney later told Cortes Currents, “If you are a single senior, the guaranteed income supplement will bring you up to just over $19,000 a year in income and if you’re in a relationship and part of a couple, it will bring you up to just over $24,000 a year. Within that framework, seniors are able to work a certain amount to make an income, to help sustain them on top of that.” 

Dec 13, 2021 – Blaney’s motion that pandemic benefits not be counted as income when determining eligibility for GIS defeated

According to the Guaranteed Income Supplement webpage, “If you are employed or self-employed and receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement, you can earn up to $5,000 and still receive the full benefit amount. For earnings between $5,000 and $15,000, your Guaranteed Income Supplement will be reduced by 50 cents for every dollar of income you receive.”

This seems clear, so what’s the problem?

Blaney explained that prior to the pandemic, a lot of seniors on GIS also had part time jobs. When these were terminated because of COVID, the federal government also cut off all employment insurance benefits. The only thing they could apply for was the CERB and then later on the CRB (Canada Recovery Benefit). 

They later discovered that a portion or, in some cases, all of their GIS was clawed back the following year.

In some cases seniors had a little money in a tax free savings account of RIF, which they had to draw upon for any one of a number of reasons (illness, dental work, car repair, home renovations etc) . This pushed their nominal income over the poverty line and led to their GIS being cancelled.

Blaney said they can go to CRA, ‘this is a one-time thing,’ and ask for a review. 

Screenshot from Seniors working in Canada – Statistics Canada (Nov 29, 2017)

“One of the things that was most frustrating is if you had applied as a senior through Service Canada, the process of being reassessed was very quick. The solutions were faster. But if you had applied through the CRA, it wasn’t quick. In fact, it wasn’t working,” she said.

“We’ve talked to seniors who are now living in their vehicles.”

Someone living just outside the North Island-Powell River riding was evicted the day of our interview, on December 23, 2021. She had to pay for medication and did not have enough money left for rent.

Though the government has promised to pay seniors an extra $500, this isn’t coming until May 2022. A senior in Ontario said he could not wait and committed suicide.

Map of North Island-Powell River – courtesy Elections Canada

“The other part that I feel is really important is a lot of the seniors are women who stayed at home to care for their family for a big part of their life. So their CPP is very low,” said Blaney.

The NDP have been advocating for the low-income seniors who were cut off from GIS for months.

“We keep bringing this up because we keep hearing the stories. They keep contacting us.  We are getting hundreds, if not over a thousand emails into our office. And a lot of people are calling and reaching out from all over the country because this is the experience that they’re having,” said Blaney. 

“They’re very afraid because they’re at a very vulnerable age where they don’t have options in the same way that a younger person would have. So our leader, our finance critic, and I have sat together and talked about this issue. We’ve looked at how it rolled out and, and I can’t help but get really frustrated.”

Rachel Blaney outdoor portrait on 08 October, 2021. Credit: Christian Diotte, House of Commons Photo Services © HOC-CDC, 2021

She said some corporations saw an increase to their profits after claiming the 75% wage subsidy. In some cases, this translated into substantial dividends to shareholders at the end of the year.

This was not something the Liberal government talks about.

“They will go after seniors who got a little extra money. It’s not a lot. It’s not billions and trillions of dollars. Wealthy people are making even more money right now, while the poorest of us are suffering,” said Blaney.

Top photo credit: The wait by Pat Pilon via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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