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$500 grant needs to be given directly to N.S. seniors, Opposition says

Click to play video: 'Advocates agree N.S. seniors’ grant could be better streamlined' Advocates agree N.S. seniors’ grant could be better streamlined
The deadline to apply for a seniors care grant introduced late last year is just days away. As the deadline looms, the Liberal opposition is criticizing the grant saying the money should be more accessible. As Callum Smith reports, seniors’ advocates support the grant and many are helping the older population go through the process -- but there is agreement the program could be better streamlined. – May 24, 2022

While bingo is on the minds of many at the Dartmouth Seniors Service Centre on a Tuesday afternoon, the cost of living is up there too.

Robert Webber is already using some of the money he received from the province.

“Cutting my lawn,” he says. “And I use it for other small repairs; I get the kids to come down — grandchildren — to come down to clean up the yard.”

The money comes from Nova Scotia’s Seniors Care Grant, which was introduced late last year. But those who haven’t applied yet need to do so soon, with a May 31 deadline looming.

It’s $500 for people over the age of 65 who live independently, earn $37,500 or less, and rent or own their home. It can be used for “services like home repairs, lawn care, snow removal, house cleaning services, and grocery and medication deliveries,” according to the province.

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Pam Vaters, the centre’s executive director, is pleased the grant can help people in need.

Read more: Wait-list for long-term care in N.S. at record level. Experts warn it will only get worse

“What was so nice about it, it just said, ‘Hey, if you feel you need a few extra dollars, please sign up,'” she says, “just fill out this small application and it’ll be given to you.”

But she says accessibility challenges can persist with any application, no matter the size.

“Unfortunately, with a lot of seniors — and we’re all getting there — we have trouble filling out forms, no matter how big or small.”

She estimates the centre has helped hundreds of people apply for the grant and isn’t aware of anyone who was declined.

But even though it was announced in December 2021, the province says recent figures show nearly 24,400 people have signed up out of an eligible population of about 64,000.

That’s prompted the Liberal Opposition to call for the government to simply hand over the cash to seniors, depositing it directly into their bank accounts.

“Instead of making them go through all the hoops of applying for it, we would just like them to give the $500 to the seniors,” says Kelly Regan, the party’s government critic for the Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care.

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Read more: N.S. to borrow $1.8 billion to fund previously announced long-term care project

But the minister responsible says the problem then is that the money becomes taxable income.

“If we give them that money directly, they’ll lose a significant portion of it and it bumps them out of other programs — and some of them are federal programs — and that is not what we want,” says Barbara Adams, the seniors and long-term care minister.

“There is no simpler grant to apply for.”

At Spencer House, a community drop-in centre for seniors, there’s more appreciation for the money — even if it comes with some hurdles that they’re quick to help with.

“Ideally, it would be great if the money went directly to the senior’s bank account,” says Erin Stacknick, the program co-ordinator. “But like we said, the bottom line is: any money that is coming to a low-income senior is helpful.”

Meanwhile, for Vaters, the focus now is ensuring everyone who is eligible is aware.

“A lot of seniors don’t even know about these grants. So we’ve been telling everybody: have you heard about the grant? It’s amazing how many people don’t know,” Vaters says.

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