Home Government 43rd Parliament of Canada Some seniors toughing out GIS clawback during election

Some seniors toughing out GIS clawback during election

"That's why we want to bring in a New Democrat government that would never let this happen in the first place." ~ NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

Monday August 16, 2021 | NATIONAL

Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends

Some seniors are suffering during this election period, in an unexpected way.

Seniorswho took the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) during the pandemic and if self-employed took the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), have each received a letter in the mail from the federal government if it was determined that they are no longer eligible to receive some or all of their Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).

For most, the key box that was checked in the form letter from Service Canada was this: “Your income … is too high to receive the benefit.” That probably came as a shock to many. What? What increased income?

jagmeet singh, media
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh held an outdoor media conference in Toronto on August 16, 2021. [Zoom screenshot]

These letters arrived at people’s home addresses in mid to late July. Across the country this has come as a shock to seniors who receive this additional income support which is calculated based on the person’s income of the previous tax year.

Both New Democrats and Greens say they’ve have been flooded with calls from Canadians aged 65 and up who suddenly find themselves cut off from monthly government payments due to the pandemic benefits they relied on last year.

Getting through the summer and fall:

“If Justin Trudeau really wanted to support people through the pandemic, he wouldn’t have cut the supports they count on just a few weeks ago. And by refusing to reverse those cuts today, he’s showing that he’s all talk and no action. Canadians can’t afford more of Justin Trudeau’s fake promises,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh today on the campaign trail in Toronto, as media questions continue about how seniors are expected to make ends meet if their GIS has been unexpectedly and suddenly cut.

“It’s really actually heartbreaking,” Singh said in response to a question from Island Social Trends by Zoom. “The seniors that are having to deal with this clawback are among the most vulnerable. People that are on GIS are seniors that have some of the lowest incomes. Faced by these clawbacks in a difficult time is horrible.”

“That’s why we want to bring in a New Democrat government that would never let this happen in the first place,” said Singh live today.

Sudden struggle, taking on debt:

ndp, seniors
NDP proposes a National Seniors Strategy (with provinces, territories and Indigenous governments) to make seniors health care a priority, reduce isolation and tackle seniors’ poverty. [from NDP ‘Ready for Better’ vision statement released August 12, 2021]

For some, this impacted their ability to cover rent, utilities, health needs or even groceries on very short notice. It’s not like people saved up their CERB payments, they spent them to remain stable during the pandemic.

For some, this will mean going into debt to cover for loss of income.

CERB/CRB was one-time support:

Of course a senior’s income will — on paper — look like it went up during 2020 if they took CERB or CRB.

But the whole point of CERB and CRB was to make up for a loss in income in other areas during the uncertainty of the pandemic. The lost of GIS now is particularly harsh for people who are self-employed and need the CRB to make up for lower incoming funds as the economy continues to recover.

It’s not as if the CERB/CRB was extra money that made a person richer for the long term. It was to cover for expenses during the pandemic, to which they were legitimately entitled if they qualified through the online application.

ndp, election, vision
Ready for Better is the NDP vision document released August 12, 2021 ahead of the anticipated federal election.

Can this be fixed fast?

Today Island Social Trends asked NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh if this can be corrected quickly, given the country is so close to being plunged into an election. Otherwise, these seniors are suddenly (on just a few days notice) in a much worse financial position to pay rent or any other essential living expenses.

Now that an election is on the very near horizon (the scuttlebutt is that it will be called on Sunday of this coming weekend, i.e. August 15), there will be no sitting House of Commons in which to make legislative changes about the GIS calculation. Presuming the minimum election campaign period of 36 days is chosen by Trudeau, that puts the next election on the calendar for Monday September 20.

Not a new approach:

The Liberals have undertaken clawbacks of various types through the tax system over the years (not just the GIS this year), one of which is disallowing some types of medical expenses and also having increased the tax rate for people in higher income levels (around the $200,000 mark, even if that’s by two earners in a household). In many cases it’s a mean-spirited nickle-and-dime approach, quietly behind the scenes in small ways that are resilient to any large number of individuals speaking up about it between elections. The GIS situation might be different, as most seniors are articulate and usually keen to vote.

Program clawbacks (by any government) are a way to keep people at the level they were already at, before the benefit was issued.

GIS will likely have to wait:

Any senior who is in this predicament of having a chunk of their *guaranteed* income suddenly pulled out from under them without notice will have to wait until close to year-end before that can be reversed. And that presumes that there would be the political will to reverse the GIS clawback decision.

Provincial benefits that are income-tested based on federal calculations (such as the SAFER rental housing supplement for seniors in BC) are likely to also be impacted in a domino effect. Therefore the GIS clawback is not a singular scenario; exacerbated scenarios of relative poverty loom for many seniors in this GIS-clawback predicament.

Why should seniors suffer?

seniors, finance
Some seniors who collected CERB are now losing their GIS.

This overall scenario indicates that the Liberals haven’t grasped the true need of low-income people for truly needing CERB/CRB at a time when so many things were scary and uncertain in the first year of the pandemic.

Election outcome will impact GIS-clawback reversal:

If the Liberals win a majority in the election that is likely to be on September 20, reversal of the GIS clawback is far less likely than if the NDP achieve a higher number of seats their current 24 (and thereby still have powerful sway in a minority government scenario).

If the Conservatives win a majority there’s likely no hope of ever seeing the clawback reversed.

If the NDP come back with more than the 24 seats they had at dissolution, there’s a chance they could pressure a minority-led government to reverse the clawback.

If a large number of Canadians use mail-in ballots, it could be days or weeks before the full results of the election are known; the country will run with a ‘caretaker government’ without the possibility of new legislation. This could leave GIS-impacted seniors to nearly year-end before there is a correction in the judgement error that the Liberal government has made with this decision.

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Regardless of one’s view of whether CERB should be considered full income for a low-income test (re the GIS), the clawback shows a total eclipse of political sensibility by the Liberals. Seniors are not going to neglect this at the ballot box.

Essential income:

The GIS is not a bonus, it is (as the name declares) a supplement, to make up for what the senior needs to make ends meet.

GIS eligibility is income-tested (i.e. issued in the current year based on income in the previous tax year). But CERB/CRB was not an increase in income for the long term; it’s not like someone got a job that put them into a new income bracket or their self-employment business suddenly had more sales that are sustainable.

dumont tirecraft

CERB and CRB were issued during a crisis, to help the overall society and economy weather the storm of the pandemic. CERB at $2,000 per month kept many people from having to use food banks, or go into personal debt, or spiral into despair over financial worries when they had other worries (such as family members who might have been ill, or someone in the family who lost their job and had to move in with their elderly parents, or simply coping with the loneliness of isolation before COVID vaccination changed that scenario).

Speaking up about it:

Daniel Blaikie, MP
Daniel Blaikie, MP is the NDP Critic for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.

The NDP sent a letter to top ministers just before the election was announced, “demanding this change immediately”. That letter was sent from NDP critic for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Daniel Blaikie on August 3 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. [See full text of letter here]

Locally here on Vancouver Island, Alistair MacGregor, MP (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford) told Island Social Trends last week that he is “surprised that no one in the government could see this was going to be an issue”. He has been receiving letters from constituents regarding the loss of GIS income: Letter 1 | Letter 2

jagmeet singh, peter julian
Lifting every senior and person living with a disability out of poverty.

A party spokesperson says not only are the NDP calling on the government to reverse the GIS decision, but also to undo the reduction in the CRB. “In the longer term we are committing to a guaranteed livable income, starting by lifting every senior and person living with a disability out of poverty.”

===== RELATED:

Shouting loud in two directions — heckler at NDP outdoor press conference (August 16, 2021)

LETTER: Seniors suddenly losing Guaranteed Income Supplement if they took CERB (August 7, 2021)

Seniors who took CERB now losing GIS supplement & other benefits (August 5, 2021)

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