Seniors feeling the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic will be able to get a one-time top-up to their Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement payments.
Seniors Minister Deb Schulte and Treasury Board president Jean-Yves Duclos held a press conference on Tuesday morning to roll out details of a $2.5-billion plan to give seniors eligible for the OAS pension a one-time, tax-free payment of $300, with an additional $200 going to those also eligible for the GIS.
The government will also spend an extra $20 million on expanding the New Horizons for Seniors Program that supports community-based projects for seniors and will temporarily extend GIS payments.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented global economic shutdown over the last three months as countries scramble to try to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
Canada lost nearly two million jobs in April in addition to the roughly one million lost in March when lockdowns began across the country.
Those shutdowns, targeting non-essential businesses, have primarily hit women and vulnerable Canadians hardest, as they fill many of the jobs in the retail and service industries, both hit hard by the restrictions.
Seniors who work part time and earn less than $1,000 per month are also eligible to claim the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, along with other working Canadians who have seen their pay cheques shrink or disappear because of the pandemic shutdowns.
But seniors advocates have argued that older Canadians have seen their retirement savings take a hit as stock markets have been roiled by the crisis and that increasing costs of essential goods are stretching the budgets of seniors used to living on fixed incomes.
Schulte said during the press conference that the government has also increased the GST credit for seniors but wouldn’t answer questions about why the top-up announced Tuesday will only be paid out once given there’s no indication of when the pandemic will end.
She also wouldn’t answer when asked what criteria will be used to determine whether to provide further support for seniors, but said she acknowledged the GST credit was not enough.
“We recognize that wasn’t enough and that’s why we’re stepping up now,” she said.
“We’ve been focused on those who have no income, who’ve lost their businesses … we have been focused on looking after seniors – it’s just, they are still getting their benefits.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also addressed the decision during his daily briefing with journalists on Tuesday, saying the move will help roughly seven million Canadian seniors over the coming weeks.
He said while attention on seniors has focused on those in long-term care homes — where high numbers of seniors have died in virus outbreaks across the country — seniors also face other challenges.
“The challenges for seniors are not only limited to what’s happening in long-term care homes. The quarantine is difficult for seniors,” he said. “They depend on delivery services and this often times means they can’t benefit from sales. Times are difficult, emotionally and financially.”
Trudeau pledged the government will be working with provinces over the coming months “to find lasting solutions” to the lack of staffing and resources at long-term care homes that appear to have contributed to the explosion of cases in those homes.