Friday January 21, 2022 | NATIONAL
Editorial Update by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
The winter break and holiday season has passed, and many seniors on Vancouver Island and across Canada are now into their seventh month of doing without the Guaranteed Income Supplement that they were previously receiving.
Today NDP finance critic Daniel Blaikie along with NDP seniors critic Rachel Blaney called on the federal government to immediately help seniors who had had their Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) cut starting in July 2021.
The NDP says that although Seniors Minister Kamal Khera has acknowledged “the government’s error” and “has committed to fix it”, the Blaikie and Blaney once again remind government that seniors have been struggling to pay their bills and afford groceries for months.
Long hard winter:
It’s been a long hard fall and winter — still in a pandemic — for seniors particularly in the age 65 to 74 age category who find themselves still requiring additional income from employment (whether for lack of sufficient pension or other circumstances).
Earlier this week, Statistics Canada reported that the country’s inflation rate rose to a new 30-year high. The price of groceries is reportedly up by six percent — the largest gain in 10 years. Much of this is beyond the federal government’s control (as COVID and weather impacts affect supply chain efficiency and reliability) but nonetheless seniors and all other low-income and middle-income Canadians are feeling that pinch.
GIS correction timeline:
So far as anyone can tell, adjustments to payments is not coming until at least May of this year (more likely perhaps in July, when GIS levels would normally changed based on the previous tax year, i.e. now responding to the 2021 tax year). That assumption is based on funds being available in the 2022-2023 budget as earmarked for addressing the GIS clawback.
Over the recent winter holiday season break (during December and January) some seniors have been issued lengthy forms through Service Canada with which they might provide information to prove that their income did not in fact go up in 2020 (the tax year for which funds are being clawed back).
This places the onus on as many as 88,000 low-income seniors to dig out a lot of detailed information and prove that their 2020 personal taxable income was increased only ‘on paper’, so-to-speak, for having accepted CERB/CRB emergency support payments in 2020, and not as a result of any significant employment-generated income.
It is fair to say that salaried people working in government and anyone with high stable salaried income is perhaps not aware of the struggle of people who live close to the line. The GIS clawback also reflects an overall Trudeau Liberal penchant for squeezing people into a corner to prove their needs, before then, yes, issuing funds in support (that would relate to Child Benefit payments to families as well as seniors).
Will seniors switch their vote?
So while the Liberal government can say ‘they have seniors’ backs’ it tends to come in a controlling, miserly way.
Yes, people may survive the long slog through a year of insufficient income (through no fault of their own), but mark does this leave on individuals, families and communities and what impact does it have on the inclination of seniors (who usually vote in high numbers) to switch their vote from Liberal to NDP in the next federal election (possibly in 2023).
Another letter to Freeland and Khera:
Yesterday Blaikie and Blaney wrote yet another letter to Deputy Minister Chrystia Freeland and Seniors Minister Kamal Khera “imploring them to provide a one-time emergency payment to seniors facing dire financial circumstances”.
The political pressure is expected of the NDP as they continue to push for better living conditions for all Canadians, including seniors. And a one-time emergency payment is a very good idea and will certainly be welcome by seniors in need. But it does, in some ways, show the NDP yielding to the fact that full restoration of GIS payments probably will in fact take until July 2022.
The baby-boom generation (now in their mid-60s and older) has never been afraid to speak up about their interface within the social ecology of our times. Letters to media and comments to government have been copious, and have been heard.
Seniors have been telling their Members of Parliament for months about the challenges now being faced, including not being able to afford rent (and borrowing from friends, family or on credit card to make it happen), cutting back on groceries, transportation and medications.
“A one-time emergency payment would avoid needless deaths,” write Blaikie and Blaney in their January 20, 2022 letter. It’s probably easy to lose sight of every-day things when dealing with things at the top levels of government, but Liberal government leadership can probably know that such a statement is simply not an exaggeration.
Saying that the lack of GIS support will lead to death perhaps does not mean people immediately dying in their homes or on the streets. But the impact of sudden and chronic poverty is proven to diminish financial resiliency as well as health resilience, and when that sort of hope and sustainability is lost, things happen.
Today’s event with Blaikie and Blaney included remarks from a senior, Janet McLeod, who shared her story, and the national director of Campaign 2000, Leila Sarangi, an anti-poverty advocate.
The Liberal government is hearing this outcry, and still may yet be judged at the ballot box for how they handled this. They might just stave off vote-switching if they come up with the emergency payment in February.
Campaign 2000 is specifically asking:
- Immediately implement a $100 million housing fund for pandemic clawback victims using a very low barrier distribution method to help keep seniors housed and mitigate evictions; and
- immediately provide an interim down payment of $2,500 to all GIS clawback victims with losses of at least this amount.
“With these direct measures, you can assure the success of your government’s decision to end the clawback. Without them, this important element set out in your mandate letter will fail,” said Sarangi today.
Truth in politics:
It’s political, but it’s also truthful, that “instead of having people’s backs like Justin Trudeau said they would during the election, this government has cut their financial support and refuses to act quickly to fix it,” said Blaney today.
Yes, it’s a pandemic and the government has a lot going on, but Blaney’s NDP position that “Canadian seniors deserve much better” is pretty much inarguable.
Minister of Seniors Mandate Letter:
The Seniors Minister mandate letter came on a slow burn — released December 16, 2021, without any realistic time to deal with any systemic GIS change until the new year or likely indeed toward May, as the House doesn’t even sit again until the end of this month.
And the Minister of Seniors mandate letter does not explicitly say to pay all the lost funds back to impacted seniors:
“Ensure seniors’ eligibility for the Guaranteed Income Supplement is not negatively impacted by receipt of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB).”
Tracking the GIS crisis since summer 2021:
Island Social Trends continues to track this issue. We’ve been receiving letters about the GIS clawback since August of last year, as seniors began to scramble to cover rent, transportation, medications and groceries when GIS payments didn’t roll in (see archive of letters and article below this article).
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Mary P Brooke is the editor and publisher of Island Social Trends as published daily at islandsocialtrends.ca.
She has been covering politics and socioeconomic issues since 2008 on south Vancouver Island (previously as West Shore Voice News, and before that both Sooke Voice News and MapleLine Magazine).
Ms Brooke has been following the GIS clawback issue in detail since the summer of 2021.
When does the GIS clawback repayment come? (January 12, 2022)
Federal grind on low-income seniors & families continues in new year (January 3, 2022)
New Year’s weekend letters from seniors about GIS clawback (January 3, 2022)
New Year’s Message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (December 31, 2021)
Huge letdown for low-income seniors as GIS clawback repayment promise drags on (December 16, 2021)
NDP: GIS clawback must end before Xmas (December 13, 2021)
NDP: GIS & CCB clawbacks could be repaid immediately in full (December 8, 2021)
LETTER: GIS clawback could lead to homelessness & worse (December 2, 2021)
===== ARCHIVE of GIS LETTERS & ARTICLES:
Liberals again acknowledge GIS clawback issue as NDP keeps pushing (November 30, 2021)
NDP calls for emergency debate around low-income family & seniors clawbacks (November 24, 2021)
NDP rolls into 44th Parliament with priorities to help people (November 22, 2021)
Restoring GIS & Canada Child Benefit important for low-income islanders (November 18, 2021)
LETTER: Losing GIS means needing help to pay the rent (November 17, 2021)
Seniors Minister weighs in on what NDP calls GIS clawback (November 8, 2021)
NDP requests immediate government action to reverse GIS clawback (November 3, 2021)
LETTER: senior faces potential eviction due to GIS clawback (Oct 27, 2021)
LETTER: GIS clawback continues after election (October 19, 2021)
LETTER: GIS clawback means food vs rent (September 19, 2021)
NDP candidate mojo: we fight for you (September 19, 2021)
LETTER: GIS clawback means no bus pass (September 13, 2021)
LETTER: Hurting seniors with GIS clawback (September 5, 2021)
LETTER: Retired & depending on GIS (August 19, 2021)
LETTER: Suddenly losing Guaranteed Income Supplement by receiving CERB (August 10, 2021)
Seniors who took CERB now losing GIS supplement & other benefits (August 4, 2021)