The federal government is announcing new measures today to help seniors struggling financially because of COVID-19.
Seniors Minister Deb Schulte said that seniors who qualify for Old Age Security (OAS) will be eligible for a one-time, tax-free payment of $300, and those eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) will get an extra $200.
Those eligible for both will receive $500.
The direct supports will be worth $2.5 billion and are expected to help 6.7 million older Canadians.
Schulte said seniors are facing extra dispensing fees for prescriptions, added costs for grocery delivery services and taxi fees when they might normally take the bus.
“It’s all small amounts, but it adds up,” she said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is holding a daily briefing at 11 a.m. and CBCNews.ca is carrying it live.
The government is also investing another $20 million on the New Horizons for Seniors Program, which funds various community projects for seniors. Schulte that that money will help to mitigate the impacts of isolation, such as virtual exercise programs and providing tablets.
Schulte and Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos announced the new initiative during a news teleconference Tuesday morning.
Duclos said the measures will not require parliamentary authority and that the supports are expected to flow within weeks.
Marissa Lennox, chief policy officer at seniors advocacy group CARP, said in addition to added grocery and prescription costs, seniors are also seeing free or discounted community services — such as laundry services, meals at community centres and volunteer tax preparation — dry up because of the global pandemic.
Lennox said many seniors have also seen retirement savings shrink because of a drop in the stock market.
CARP had asked the federal government to waive mandatory registered retirement income fund (RRIF) withdrawals in 2020. CARP says the mandatory withdrawals increase the tax liability for the year as seniors struggle with added costs related to the pandemic.
“Anything that is withdrawn from a RRIF is fully taxable, and in this unpredictable time, seniors are looking to maximize their cash, reduce their tax liability and maximize their flexibility in arranging their affairs,” Lennox said in an email.
CARP has also urged the government to eliminate withholding tax on RRSP withdrawals for the 2020 tax year and allow two years to repay taxes owed.
The group is also asking the government to follow through on an election promise to increase Old Age Security (OAS) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).
During the 2019 campaign, Trudeau said a re-elected government would provide a 10 per cent boost to OAS at age 75 and a 25 per cent increase to the Canada Pension Plan for widows or widowers.
At the time, the Liberal Party said the OAS increase would give Canadians aged 75 and older an extra $729 each year and lift 20,000 seniors out of poverty, while widows or widowers would receive up to $2,080 in additional benefits every year with the increased survivor’s benefit under the CPP and Quebec Pension Plan (QPP).
Asked about those promised benefits today, Duclos said Tuesday’s announcement is meant to provide “quick, solid support” for seniors during the health crisis, and that the government will also deal with financial security for seniors more generally.