OTTAWA — One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top ministers says federal assistance is on the way for seniors on fixed incomes who have faced an increase in the cost of living as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Liberals have promised help for seniors, particularly those whose income is derived from public and private pensions, although the details have been scarce.
Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said Wednesday that the government would soon be announcing assistance for seniors because of the cost crunch they may face.
He cited a list of issues that have driven up everyday costs for seniors, including jumps in food prices because of disruptions in supply chains, transportation and delivery costs for those who are less mobile or don’t feel comfortable going outside as provinces start relaxing health-related restrictions.
Normally, public pension payments through old age security, the guaranteed income supplement for low-income seniors, and the Canada Pension Plan would be adjusted to offset increases in inflation as measured by the national statistics agency.
Duclos, whose former role in cabinet included oversight of the OAS and GIS programs, suggested more help may be necessary than a cost-of-living adjustment.
“We don’t know yet — because Statistics Canada hasn’t done the surveys yet — the exact nature of the cost increases, but those costs are real,” Duclos said in French during a daily briefing with reporters.
“And that’s why … we will soon announce assistance for seniors.”
The most recent federal figures show there were 6.5 million seniors receiving old age security payments in March. There were 2.1 million receiving GIS payments, which are meant to put a financial floor under seniors.
Seniors groups and opposition parties have pressed the Liberals to increase the value of payments under both programs for the duration of the crisis.
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons, the country’s largest advocacy group for seniors, has argued that more needs to be done to help a demographic at highest risk of death from COVID-19 stay afloat during isolation.
The government has already lowered by 25 per cent the amount that seniors need to withdraw from registered retirement income funds, but CARP is asking the government to eliminate altogether the mandatory RRIF withdrawals for the calendar year.
It is also asking the government to suspend the withholding tax on RRSP withdrawals for the 2020 tax year and give seniors two years to pay it.