Nearly 90,000 Canadian seniors are affected by a sudden cut in their monthly income because they accepted a federal economic benefit that was supposed to help them cope with the pandemic.
Low-income seniors who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) experience their Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) payments repaid as a result.
GIS aims to help low-income seniors make ends meet. Payments are based on income. A single senior earning less than $ 19,248 qualifies for GIS. The cut-off for couples can be as high as $ 46,128, depending on their retirement situation.
In 2021, the maximum monthly payment under the program is $ 948.82.
Janet McLeod, who turns 79 next month, is one of many low-income seniors working part-time to support themselves while receiving GIS.
‘An eternal battle’
McLeod, who previously received about $ 300 a month through the program, said she was told in July that because she accepted several payments of $ 2,000 monthly CERB – which is taxable income – all of her GIS payments for this year would be canceled.
“I’m in an eternal battle,” she said. “So it’s very difficult to get cut $ 300 a month, to pay rent and take care of my other expenses, which are very modest.”
Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), which McLeod did not charge, is also counted as income when applying for GIS.
McLeod has a small business that helps students get post-secondary placements. She said that before the pandemic, almost her entire business was brought face to face; COVID-19 left her without a sufficient income, so she applied to CERB.
Asks for special considerations
By the fall of 2020, she said, she had adapted her business model to teleworking and stopped collecting CERB payments.
“When I paid my taxes in April 2021 for the year 2020, GIS returned to me in early July and told me, ‘You earn too much, you do not qualify for GIS,'” she said.
“Those of us who get GIS are at the low end of working income. Seniors can not project that they are going to make a lot of money, but they still want to make a contribution and work for as long as we can. You are cutting back on us, those who can least afford it. “
Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Senior Minister Kamal Khera, said that “because GIS benefits are generally reduced by $ 1 for every $ 2 of net income, affected seniors would have received more in CERB or CRB than they lost in GIS.”
Bardsley said McLeod and others like her could ask the federal government to consider their case by estimating what they will earn this year and using that number to calculate GIS.
Such requests, Bardsley said, are handled on a case-by-case basis and approved “under limited circumstances.”
McLeod said she received the same advice from the government. She said that because her business is a small one-man operation, her income fluctuates on a monthly basis and she has very little idea of what she will earn this year.
Leila Sarangi, national director of the Campaign 2000 anti-poverty coalition, said her office has heard from seniors across the country who are in McLeod’s situation.
“We’re talking about the lowest incomes, who don’t have savings, who don’t have the resilience, who don’t have that padding,” she said. “That’s why they still work as seniors.”
According to the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), 88,222 low-income seniors will see GIS reductions due to pandemic benefits.
Solve the problem, say the opposition parties
In September, the PBO told the NDP that taking CERB and CRB out of the equation used to calculate GIS would cost the government $ 380 million this year and $ 58 million next year.
New Democrats and Canada 2000 wants the government to stop including CRB and CERB in the GIS income calculation. NDP MP Daniel Blaikie said that although this change would be costly, it is already built into the budget because GIS costs are relatively stable from year to year.
He said the federal government should not try to cover the cost of emergency aid through cuts in payments to low-income seniors.
“If those benefits are taken away, they just don’t get enough every month to make rent,” Blakie said. “It’s not good for them to have them on the street. It’s not good for their neighbors, it’s not good for their communities.
“Homelessness is a real problem. We do not have to contribute to it by removing a benefit that already went out to our poorest elderly before the pandemic.”
In August, the Conservatives wrote to Khera’s predecessor, Deb Schulte, pushing for action on the issue. A spokesman for the Conservative Party told CBC News that the Conservatives want the issue “corrected”, but offered no specific solutions.