Prime Minister Must Reverse Decision to Cut GIS for Low-Income Seniors

The Prime Minister must take immediate action to ensure low-income seniors who rely on their Guarantee Income Supplement (GIS) continue to receive this critical support.

The pandemic has hit Canadians hard and seniors are not exempted from the economic impact of Covid-19. Seniors who were working to supplement their GIS prior to the pandemic and received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) are now losing their GIS or having it severely reduced. These seniors now find themselves without the support of CERB, employment income or GIS. Furthermore, seniors who received CERB are also losing some provincial benefits such as their annual bus pass.

“Many seniors in my riding have been asking for urgent help to address this issue. The loss of the GIS means they won’t be able to put food on the table and they will face eviction. It is heartless and unconscionable for the Liberal government to treat low-income seniors this way”, said Jenny Kwan, NDP Vancouver East MP Elect.

Kwan notes that that GIS recipients who applied for emergency benefits under the Canada Revenue Agency stream has no process available to them to address this urgent situation and even though those who applied under the Service Canada stream are able to submit a request for their GIS to be calculated based on their anticipated income for the current year; it will take 6 months to process such a request. “This is just absurd. It makes no sense at all. Surely, the government should recognize that the needs of all these seniors are the same, regardless of the source of their emergency benefit. The situation is urgent, all seniors should be able to continue to receive their GIS,” said Kwan.

“This is devastating. I am so anxious. My total income with the GIS is $1,550. By cutting my GIS, my income is now reduced to $626.49 a month. That doesn't even cover my rent. I don’t know what will happen to me if this grievous issue is not addressed,” said Mr. Vern Braithwaite.

“Because of the pandemic, I lost my employment income and since I made a little more than $5,000 in 2019, I was eligible to apply for CERB. At no point did the Liberal government ever indicate that I risk losing my GIS if I collected CERB. It was not on their website. I feel that I have been tricked and now I am being abandoned,” added Mr. Braithwaite.

Mr. Sheng Lung Lee is a 67 year old senior and he supplemented his pension income as a minimum wage earner washing dishes. He earned a little more than $5,000 before the pandemic. He was laid off as the restaurant industry has been devastated by Covid-19. He initially received CERB, then his emergency benefit was reverted to EI in Oct. 2020. In July 2021, Mr. Lee saw his GIS income drastically reduce and just this month his EI ran out. His pension income has been reduced by half from $1,448 to just $733.75. My office is assisting Mr. Lee in applying for statements of anticipated income and we have been advised by Service Canada that it will take up to 6 months to process these kind of requests.

“After paying his rent, bus pass and utilities, Mr. Lee has no money for food. How will Mr. Lee survive during these 6 months? Also, Mr. Lee suffers from a range of health conditions, including degenerative arthritis, migraine headaches and a history of mental challenges. I fear the stresses of this situation will trigger his depression”, said Kwan.

Kwan also pointed out that GIS recipients are supposed to be able to earn up to $5,000 before their GIS is reduced. In addition, 50% of the next $10,000 of income will also be exempt. That means seniors should be able to earn up to $10,000 while still receiving benefits under the GIS. Yet somehow this exemption does not apply to CERB or EI-ERB income.

“This punitive action would make it impossible for some seniors to pay for their basic necessities, including food and rent. They will lose their home and end up on the street as the fourth wave continues. This cannot be allowed to happen,” said Kwan.

MP Elect Jenny Kwan and the NDP are calling on the Liberal government to take immediate action to exempt emergency benefits as income when calculating GIS eligibility.

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