April 23, 2020
The Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister
Hon Deb Schulte, Minister of Seniors
Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
Hon Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue
OPEN LETTER RE: GUARANTEED INCOME SUPPLEMENT ELIGIBILITY AND CONTINUANCE IN COVID-19 PANDEMIC
I write today in order to raise an urgent concern about seniors’ income security that impacts many families in Vancouver East.
411 Seniors Centre is a seniors’ resource organization located in my constituency. One of the services that they offer our community is a yearly Tax Clinic, in which the Centre annually assists some 2,000 seniors with completing and filing their income tax return, and assists seniors in making their annual Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) application.
In speaking with the Centre this week, they have raised their urgent concern that they won't be able to conduct this year’s Tax Clinics, even with the extended June deadline for filing 2019 income tax returns. The Centre advises that they do not have the capacity to get an online or virtual Tax Clinic system going. As it stands right now, they have six volunteers who could help with this – whereas in previous years they had over 35 seniors helping.
Given the renewed fraud and scam activity that has emerged in this pandemic there is also a very real concern that seniors who feel pressed to file their taxes on time could be taken advantage of, and that bad actors may end up getting their hands on vulnerable seniors’ SIN numbers and other private, personal information.
I note that the 411 Seniors’ Centre is just one of many organizations in my constituency who offer individual assistance to seniors who need help completing their income tax return or annual GIS application. These are low-income seniors who may face many barriers that would prevent them from completing a virtual tax clinic or filing their return or application online. They do not have access to and cannot afford the necessary technology requirements, they do not have home internet capacity, they may have mobility challenges or visual impairments that make using technology additionally difficult, they may require language assistance, or they may not have acquired the digital tools and skills that would be needed to complete a timely and accurate filing. These barriers are then amplified by the closure or suspension of community resources such as libraries and community centres, in-person service at local non-profit organizations, and the inability of volunteers to assist due to social distancing measures.
Therefore, I call on your government to grandfather in all seniors receiving Guaranteed Income Supplement, by automatically renewing their GIS for the 2020-2021 year. Doing so would ensure that no senior loses this vital source of income at a time when maintaining income security for seniors is crucial for their health and safety.
Another issue that the Centre has flagged for me is an issue of GIS eligibility for the 2021-2022 year, which will be based on 2020 income. Some seniors will have received some emergency government support to cope with COVID-19; for example, in BC, the provincial government is offering $300 in assistance for seniors in receipt of the provincial Senior’s Supplement, a measure for very low-income seniors. The Centre has advised that seniors are worried that receipt of this supplement would mean they may not qualify for GIS next year, or that it would have the effect of lowering their eligible GIS monthly amount. In light of this, I call on your government to affirm that any and all COVID-19 emergency aid measures will be exempted from the income calculation for GIS purposes.
I thank you in advance for your attention to these urgent matters and will look forward to a response at your earliest possible convenience.
Jenny Kwan, MP, Vancouver East
The Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos
The Hon. Navdeep Singh Bains
The Hon. William Sterling Blair
The Hon. Mélanie Joly
The Hon. Bill Morneau
The Hon. Kirsty Duncan