GIS clawback impacting low income seniors
Mary Lou Bourgeois lost her job because of COVID-19.
As a result, she collected pandemic benefits offered by the federal government including the CERB and the CRB.
She stopped getting those supports when she hit her retirement age this summer.
“It took me to my 65th birthday and I thought, ‘Great, now I don’t have to worry about looking for a job, you know, I can get my pensions, I’ll get this GIS,’” said Bourgeois.
GIS is the Guaranteed Income Supplement: a monthly payment for low-income seniors over 65 up to $948 a month.
When Bourgeois went to apply for it, she was turned down because her pandemic supports were counted as income, pushing her above the baseline for GIS.
“I was dumbfounded,” said Bourgeois. “I couldn’t believe it because I thought, ‘Well, how could you say I made too much money when that money is only enough just to get by?’”
NDP MP Leah Gazan said many low-income seniors are being caught off guard by this.
“This is resulting in seniors becoming unsheltered, having to choose between medication and food,” said Gazan.
In some cases, she said monthly GIS payments are dropping from $600 to $60.
“The paying back of the COVID pandemic debt shouldn’t be on the backs of seniors. The government needs to reverse this decision,” said Gazan.
In a statement, the federal government said the Old Age Security Act stipulates any earnings considered net income under the Income Tax Act are used to calculate GIS entitlements.
“Pandemic-related benefits, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit, are considered taxable income. These benefits are therefore considered income for GIS purposes.”
Ottawa also points out during the pandemic it provided one-time tax-free payments worth hundreds of dollars for OAS pensioners and GIS recipients, and they did not count as income towards GIS.
“In July 2020, the Government provided a one-time tax-free payment of $300 for seniors eligible for the OAS pension, with an additional tax-free payment of $200 for seniors eligible for the GIS. Allowance recipients also received $500.”
Bourgeois said she doesn’t want to look for another job because she suffers from fibromyalgia which tires her out.
She said she needs the GIS now to pay for medication and other bills.
“I’m only making enough money to pay my rent right now and get some groceries and that’s it,” said Bourgeois. “Last month I borrowed money from a friend -- $1,000.”
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