A Vancouver Island MP is worried that seniors are getting left behind when it comes to COVID-19 federal aid.
North Island–Powell River MP Rachel Blaney says that seniors are being overlooked in the federal government’s response to the pandemic.
“Seniors are the most vulnerable demographic at this time, yet the federal government has chosen to provide income supports to so many others ahead of seniors,” she says.
Blaney says seniors are having to make tough choices about whether to absorb the extra costs of delivery services on a fixed income, or head to the stores themselves.
“Why, if we’re going through all of this trouble to protect people from COVID-19, is the government putting seniors in this situation,” she says.
The NDP’s answer? A universal basic income.
The party, of which Blaney is a member, has been calling for one since the pandemic’s early days.
“A universal approach would have gotten seniors and everyone else falling through the cracks of the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) right now the help they need,” she says. “Instead, we’re now dealing with a whole slate of programming that is confusing and still difficult for people to access, with some being left out entirely.”
She addresses more of her concerns in an April 24 letter to Deb Schulte, Minister for Seniors.
“The Prime Minister has been saying for weeks now that support will be coming, yet seniors, the demographic most at risk from COVID-19, have yet to see any financial help sent to them directly,” writes Blaney.
She goes on to write that while the government’s announcements of “$9 million targeting programs assisting the most vulnerable” and “lower withdrawal rates for RIFF” are nice, they don’t “come close to providing the relief the vast majority of Canadian seniors need right now.”
Blaney lists a handful of ways seniors on fixed incomes are feeling the financial crunch. She cites increased food costs, extra delivery costs and pharmacy dispensing fees (many jurisdictions are limiting people to a 30-day supply of medications, rather than the 90-day supply that was the norm for most medications before the pandemic).
She echoes Ontario NDP MP Scott Duvall’s recommendations and would like OAS (Old Age Security) and GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement) payments to go up.
“The increase could be retroactive to March and last four months, much like other government economic response programs,” Blaney writes. “This measure would have the advantage of delivering direct relief to those in need and would avoid unnecessary administrative delays and costs inherent in other delivery modes.
“Millions of Canadian seniors would receive much-needed assistance right away.”
Blaney said constituents contact her office every day saying they’re unable to make ends meet and are worried about their May rent payments.
“The Prime Minister keeps asking seniors to wait after weeks of being told help is coming,” she says. “I really hope the Minister takes these recommendations seriously and considers the impact that this extra money would have on seniors given the current reality with COVID-19.”