The federal government announced Covid-19 support measures for seniors last week. 

Among the measures is a one-time $300 payment for seniors eligible for Old age Security (OAS) payments, and an additional one-time payment of $200 for those on Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced $20 million, through New Horizons for Seniors, for organizations that offer community-based projects that reduce isolation, improve the quality of life of seniors, and help them maintain a social support network.

In April, the government announced a one-time payment through the GST credit. Eligible seniors received an average of $375 and eligible seniors couples an average of $510 through this program. 

CARP, a national seniors’ advocacy group, had identified things like higher dispensing fees for medication, grocery delivery charges, and the increased need for taxis as expenses seniors face during the pandemic. As far as those expenses are concerned, CARP’s chief policy officer Marissa Lennox says the one-time payments are a positive step. But, she said, the issues run deeper.

“The supports announced today for seniors are welcome, but do not directly address many of the concerns we’ve relayed to government from CARP members on retirement security and access to liquidity,” Lennox said. “Seniors are looking to have as many tools as possible to maximize their cash flow and protect their retirement.”

She said increases to the cost of living affect seniors as much as, or even more than, the rest of the population. “Many low-income seniors depend on a variety of community support services, including food banks and volunteer tax preparation programs, many of which have closed their doors due to the virus. It’s unclear how long this will last.”

CARP has called on the government to waive mandatory Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF)withdrawals for 2020; eliminate withholding tax on RRSP withdrawals and allow two years to repay tax owing; and follow through on its commitment to increase OAS and Canada Pension Plan benefits.

The government had earlier reduced mandatory RRIF withdrawals by 25 per cent.

Lennox told Respect that CARP has always advocated for the complete elimination of mandatory RRIF withdrawals. “As you know, when Canadians turn 71, they convert their RRSPs to RRIFs and a year later begin making mandatory withdrawals. Our argument has always been that these rules do not reflect increasing life expectancy and time spent in retirement. 

“Many people are working longer than ever before. And when you force individuals to draw down on their savings or alter their investment portfolios, there’s a risk that they could they could run out of those dollars,” she said. 

“Couple this with the fact that many seniors have seen pretty steep declines in their retirement savings, and don’t want to be touching their RRIF dollars in this environment when the markets are so volatile.”

The government has pledged to increase OAS by 10 per cent, and increase the CPP survivor benefit from 50 per cent of the deceased partner’s pension to 75 per cent. Lennox said it would have been timely to bring that into effect while seniors are dealing with Covid-19.

She says CARP members have said the CPP and OAS payments are not sufficient. “Many would love to see it grow and would like to see the federal government follow through with their election promise. Now, in conversations I’ve had with the government, they’ve said that they’re still committed to this. It’s possible in this environment it may be postponed until the budget is tabled in the fall, so we’ve asked them to accelerate that because it would really go a long way to supporting seniors, particularly seniors on fixed income.”

Alice Wong, the Opposition critic for seniors, said the announcement shows that the government regards seniors as “an afterthought.”

“Seniors have been affected financially from Covid-19, just like the rest of Canada,” Wong said in a statement on her web page. “But the primary challenge that Covid-19 has presented for seniors is health. Not having enough PPE supplies at care homes. Living in isolation from your loved ones. And finally, knowing that people of senior age are the most likely to die of Covid-19.”

“The Trudeau government has made matters worse with their decisions that
have come too late,” she said.