Thursday August 5, 2021 | NATIONAL
by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends
Many seniors across Canada suddenly have a new financial plight on their hands, thanks to the pandemic.
Due to their low income, seniors who receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) also continue to work in order to supplement what is a low level of income. During the pandemic those who collected the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) are now having their tax situation treated as though they made much more income, resulting in a sudden loss of income because the GIS is being stripped away.
The Canada Revenue Agency system is seeing the CERB income (which is taxable) as a sudden increase in a person’s income, and bumps them into a high tax bracket. This means the loss of not only GIS but also some provincial benefits that were helping them make ends meet.
In a letter dated August 3, the NDP critic for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Daniel Blaikie, articulated this problem to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, as well as to the Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier and the Minister for Seniors Hon Deb Schulte.
Locally, Alistair MacGregor, MP (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford) told Island Social Trends today that he is “surprised that no one in the government could see this was going to be an issue”.
If a federal election is called soon (generally expected), seniors who have had their GIS support impacted will just have to muddle-through until the next parliament (44th) is formed, and something can be done to change this financial situation in the policy that is followed by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
MacGregor says some of these impacted seniors will have to rely on “community supports” which would include food banks in some cases. He (and other MPs across the country) are already hearing about people not being able to make rent or having to make other food choices because of this sudden result of income-testing. COVID supports (CERB, CRB) were legitimately available but now being used to penalize. This has resulted from bureaucratic oversight but also lack of political will to be fully attentive to the needs of seniors (as pointed out by Blaikie in his letter).
MacGregor — whose constituency on south Vancouver Island includes Langford and the Cowichan Valley/Duncan areas — hopes that seniors will speak up about this during the expected pending federal election. He notes that seniors are reliable and robust voters.
Full text of the NDP’s letter about GIS Clawback:
Letter from NDP critic for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Daniel Blaikie, articulated this problem to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, as well as to the Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier and the Minister for Seniors Hon Deb Schulte:
“I am writing to draw your attention to a problem in the conduct of your departments that is putting some of Canada’s poorest seniors in serious distress.
As you know, Canada’s lowest-income seniors can receive additional financial support through the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). Nevertheless, the current GIS rate is not enough to keep them out of a life of poverty. Seniors receiving the GIS who are both willing and able may earn some employment income to supplement this inadequate pension.
Many seniors who were working to supplement their GIS prior to the pandemic were eligible and applied for emergency benefits when the pandemic robbed them of their employment. They paid taxes on this benefit income, but it appears that the income is now being used against them in the calculation of their GIS benefit for this year.
The benefit income was obviously extraordinary and cannot be used as a fair benchmark for calculating their GIS entitlement for this year. GIS recipients already struggle to make ends meet. Denying them the GIS, or severely reducing it, as a result of last year’s emergency benefits is not only unfair, but will make it impossible for some of them to make rent. In some cases they will also lose provincial benefits they rely on to make ends meet. The point of the emergency benefits was to prevent evictions and keep food on the table, not to merely delay homelessness and hunger.
Further compounding the problem and outrage at this situation is the fact that it appears GIS recipients who applied for emergency benefits under the Service Canada stream are not having their GIS impacted by their benefit income, while those who applied under the Canada Revenue Agency stream are. New Democrat offices across the country are hearing about it from seniors who applied for emergency benefits through the CRA. If one of your departments can recognize the injustice of this punitive policy, surely those dealing with another department deserve similar treatment.
The upshot is that many seniors are being put in a desperate situation based on a confusing internal distinction between emergency benefits that has never been clear to the public. This is not the first time the needs of your own bureaucracies have trumped the needs of those Canadians your departments are meant to serve. Unfortunately, as our offices follow up on these urgent concerns, we are being passed from one department to another and back again. Swift action is required to fix this problem before our seniors start receiving eviction notices. Leadership and political will are the necessary ingredients for a solution. Passing the buck will not get the job done.
I am writing to you all in order to find out who among you will take responsibility for this mess and demand a prompt solution. I would be happy to make myself available for a meeting to provide any clarification you need about how this is impacting our seniors and discuss solutions to the problem.”
If you have been impacted in this way and have a comment, please pen a note to Island Social Trends at firstname.lastname@example.org