Home Government 44th Parliament of Canada Huge letdown for low-income seniors as GIS clawback repayment promise drags on

Huge letdown for low-income seniors as GIS clawback repayment promise drags on

Dashing the hopes of seniors before Christmas.

Thursday December 16, 2021 | NATIONAL [Last updated 5 pm PT]

Editorial analysis by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends

After raising the hopes of low-income seniors that they might receive repayment of the full amount of their Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) clawback, now it appears that payout may not happen in the short-term.

The $742.4 million in clawback repayment funds are shown in this week’s Economic and Fiscal Update as pegged into the 2022-2023 budget (see page 15 in the Economic and Fiscal Update 2021), which makes it appear that the soonest clawback repayment might be issued could be May 2022 (after the fiscal year kicks in at April 1, 2022, and the processing can be done).

Many seniors over the age of 65 years are still working (as employees or self-employed), to supplement their income. The GIS supplement helps cover their cost of living. In 2020 many of those seniors took CERB and CRB benefits, for which taxes were calculated as regular income.

But the emergency benefits were one-time income and now about 88,000 seniors are short by as much as $1,000 per month.

Waiting almost a year:

A payout timeline targeted for May 2022 would leave impacted seniors waiting over 10 months (July 2021 through April 2022) for rectification of what the Prime Minister is recent days has identified as an unintended conflict between the CERB and GIS programs.

justin trudeau, dec 15 2021
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defending his government’s economic update, in the House of Commons, Dec 15, 2021.

If the magnitude of the impact of the GIS clawback were truly understood or fully appreciated by the federal government, distribution of the clawback repayment would be pulled up to before year-end, or perhaps January 2022.

Pushing further:

It remains to be seen whether the NDP can manage to push for the clawback repayment to occur sooner than May of next year. That would require political will on the part of the federal government, to act sooner than normal process would allow. In even acknowledging and confirming a clawback repayment was perhaps enough ‘push’ from the NDP, and the Liberals may not be pushed further.

NDP Seniors Critic Rachel Blaney today during Question Period in the House of Commons today expressed the outrage that seniors will experience when they realize there are still many months to go.

“Sadly, today we found out that payment isn’t coming til May,” said Blaney, noting the blow this long delay will land upon seniors. She articulated that clawback-impacted seniors are already, in many cases, challenged to pay for food, medicine, heat or rent. “Some are of them are already homeless, some are at risk to be homeless soon,” Blaney said in the House.

rachel blaney
NDP Seniors Critic Rachel Blaney defending seniors in the House on December 16, 2021.

Later she told Island Social Trends that some seniors might possibly die as a result of waiting for the funds, as they live so financially close to the line. Issuing the GIS clawback repayment right away is “the humane thing to do”, said Blaney today. Funds to cover GIS for this fiscal year are already in the current budget, she notes.

“This government should be ashamed. Seniors are losing everything and they are doing nothing,” said Blaney. “When will the prime minister stop turning his back on the seniors of this country?” she concluded in her remarks in the House.

No repayment timeline:

Seniors Minister Kamal Khera replied to Blaney in the House today, saying the Liberal Government ‘is there for seniors’ — and acknowledging the clawback unfairness. But she not indicate when repayment of lost GIS payments might happen.

kamal khera
Seniors Minister Kamal Khera, December 13 2021.

Party talking points were given: “Since day one our government has been there for the most vulnerable,” said Seniors Minister Kamal Khera. “For low-income seniors with the greatest need, we have increased the OAS and GIS.”

But there was acknowledgement of the GIS clawback problem from Minister Khera: “We know during the pandemic working seniors needed income support and they shouldn’t be penalized for it now. That’s why our government is making a major investment through a one-time payment for seniors who have had their benefits affected.”

“Seniors can be rest assured we will always be there for them,” said Khera.

Long-time coming:

The government knew it was going to be a problem, as far back as May 2020, when then-Seniors Minister Deb Schulte advised at the committee level that, essentially ‘this is going to be a problem in July 2021 but it won’t be a problem until then’, says Claudia Calabro, a communications specialist with the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC).

“It would have been great to see this being worked on prior to December 2021 when it was clear there would be an impact on benefits interaction,” said Calabro today in an interview with Island Social Trends.

The government knew about the problem and evidently did nothing about it until pressed. Now they seem to have recognized the problem, but perhaps not yet the urgency of it.

“It’s never too late to fix the problem. But it can’t be May, it’s got to be sooner,” said Calabro. “I’m happy this issue is being spoken to now. Two weeks ago it wasn’t. It hasn’t gone far enough. We need that money in seniors’ pockets.”

“A lump sum provided some time in the future is not going to help them pay their bills now,” said Calabro. “We continue to advocate for re-instatement of monthly GIS benefits ASAP, and for CERB, CRB and any future pandemic benefit to be exempted from the calculation of income for seniors’ benefits,” as stated by the Income Security Advocacy Centre.

Calculating the payment, and when:

Daniel Blaikie, finance
NDP Finance Critic Daniel Blaikie defending the NDP position that the GIS clawback be fully reversed. [Dec 14, 2021]

Two days ago in the House (on December 14), NDP Finance Critic Daniel Blaikie pressed for details:

“How are they going to determine how much is paid to each individual senior, how are they going to roll out the funds, when is it going to happen, and how is it going to help ensure they’re going to have the money they need to get back into an apartment and pay rent for the next 12 months? Instead of just getting a one-time, thank you very much, sorry for the inconvenience, from the government.”

And today, from the ISAC group: “We welcome clarity from the Minister on the timing of the proposed fund as well as the mechanics of delivery, including what the calculation will be based on.”

Change in tone:

There has been a lot of political pressure about the GIS clawback issue from the NDP, advocacy groups and affected seniors — as was noted by NDP Finance Critic Blaikie this week in the House, as well as continued coverage in the media. And come lately the Bloc Quebecois has demanded repayment of the GIS clawback, a party whose 35 votes in the House counted for passage of C-2. The NDP did not support C-2 today, given the lack of overall attention to the needs of most Canadians in the federal government’s economic recovery bill.

Intense advocacy and seniors themselves speaking up seems to be what it takes to materialize a true shift in government perspective.

It’s as though suddenly the Liberals realized the seriousness of the clawback matter (which could be extrapolated to being somewhat out of touch with the reality of many Canadians, despite their claim to ‘always be there’ for Canadians in need).

ISAC logo

“I heard a change of tone from the Liberals in the last few weeks,” says seniors advocacy rep Calabro. She carefully rolls out the unfolding of change this way:

“It’s a positive when an issue that you’re advocating on goes from getting a response that ‘these things happen every year, there are adjustments made, we get that it’s hard’, to ‘we’re thinking about how to fix this and we want to put a line item in our fiscal update about it’. But it’s still only a line item but there’s nothing concrete yet, and that’s really what we need to see.”

Pushing for people first:

“This government prefers putting profits ahead of people,” is how NDP Tax Fairness Critic Niki Ashton today described the Liberal approach to things.

Generally speaking, Canadians expect their government to address the needs of people through policy that gets translated into budgets, but when large business interests are favoured, that’s when people and families — particularly at the lower-income end of the spectrum, can often be short-changed.

NDP Seniors Critic Rachel Blaney (MP North Island – Powell River) hears about the struggles of low-income seniors and families in her riding. She said today about the Liberals: “They just don’t care about people who are struggling the most. Actions speak louder than words.”

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Possible win for seniors who lost GIS for taking CERB (December 14, 2021)

NDP: GIS clawback must end before Xmas (December 13, 2021). At the bottom of this article you will find all related articles since August 2021 by Island Social Trends.