I write to you today, following a letter I sent to the previous Minister on August 10th, 2021, regarding seniors in my riding who have had their Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) payments either drastically reduced or completely cut off, with little to no warning, due to the receipt of CERB benefits.
I received a response from the previous Minister, in which she outlines her unwillingness to act on this serious issue. Therefore, I am writing to you, again, in the hopes of a positive resolution.
I represent many low-income seniors in my riding of Winnipeg Centre. Many live below the poverty line and rely on GIS payments to cover monthly expenses, including rent, hydro, groceries, and prescription medications. COVID-19 has placed these already vulnerable members of our community in an even more vulnerable situation and has placed a greater financial burden on seniors’ shoulders by having them pay extra to have their groceries delivered to minimize their contact with COVID, to purchase personal protection equipment, and for extra safety measures and practices. By cutting or reducing GIS payments, your government is willingly putting seniors in extremely vulnerable financial positions. Since the end of July, my office has been inundated with calls from seniors who are shocked and scared to find out they will no longer be receiving the GIS on which they so greatly rely.
Seniors who applied for CERB benefits in good faith are now being penalized for receiving the help they needed under the extraordinary circumstances of COVID. Of these seniors, some also experience memory problems and do not remember applying or were pressured by family and friends to apply. This has resulted in low-income seniors being faced with the prospect of sinking into deep poverty and potentially losing their housing. My staff are working with seniors who have received eviction notices due to non-payment of rent.
Moreover, there seems to be little to no recourse available to those who have now had either significant reductions in or a complete loss of their GIS payments. It is our understanding that those who received CERB benefits through the Service Canada stream are being handled differently from those who received CERB from CRA, and there is a differential impact. Survivors of the residential school system are being impacted especially severely by these cuts, and my staff are working with several survivors to navigate this extremely difficult time. This is not reconciliation.
The fact that CERB payments were counted towards the income of individuals receiving these benefits has not only adversely impacted their eligibility for GIS but has also rendered many people ineligible for provincial and other benefits that determine eligibility based on income. The negative impacts of this policy are many and far-reaching. Some constituents who also applied in good faith for the CERB, have now been or will be found ineligible for the benefits later. I want to emphasize the need for an amnesty for low-income seniors who accessed these benefits, in many cases after being told by CRA staff that they were eligible or through unclear eligibility criteria listed on the website.
The objective of CERB payments was not to postpone financial hardship due to COVID until a later date. It was to provide individuals with a reprieve during what has been an incredibly difficult period for so many. Cutting off or reducing GIS benefits because of the receipt of CERB goes expressly against the object and intent of the COVID benefits.
I am asking again that the necessary steps be taken immediately to resolve this issue for low-income seniors who are reliant on the GIS and other federal benefits for which eligibility is based on income. I look forward to your prompt response.
Leah Gazan, MP for Winnipeg Centre