Editorial: Protecting Canadian Seniors
I write to you today to express my concern regarding recent changes to a policy that has been helping Canadian seniors make ends meet when they are faced with the unfortunate situation of an involuntary separation (for example, one spouse being admitted to a long-term care facility). Going forward from January 1st, 2017, the policy change, which I will outline in this letter, will impact a number of seniors not only in Bruce and Grey counties but across Canada.
The Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) provides a monthly non-taxable benefit to Old Age Security (OAS) pension recipients who have a low income, below the minimum threshold established each year. It is essentially a top-up for low-income seniors that are receiving an OAS pension. The policy change that has been brought to my attention deals with the eligibility of spouses of individuals who are admitted to long-term care facilities to be assessed as a ‘single’ individual and therefore qualify to receive the GIS when as a couple they were not eligible.
Prior to January 1st, 2017, in cases where couples who were previously not eligible for the GIS, based on their total family income, and who were involuntarily separated due to the admission of one spouse into a long-term care home, the spouse remaining in the marital home could apply to be reassessed as a single individual rather than as part of a couple. This provision has been quietly discontinued by the Federal Government; forcing a number of seniors to face the immense economic burden of living below the same poverty level guidelines used for the calculation of the GIS.
Take for example, a couple where the husband is receiving pensions or other income which results in the household earnings being greater than the threshold for the GIS eligibility. If the husband were to be admitted to a long-term care facility, the couple would now have to pay not only for their marital home but also the additional cost of a long-term care admission. Currently, the rates set by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care for a basic, ward room at a long-term care facility is set at $1,819/month. Therefore, a significant amount of the husband’s income would now be required to pay for the basic long-term care and his wife would be forced to rely solely on whatever is left of their total income to make ends meet. She would not be eligible to be reassessed for the GIS as a ‘single’ individual under these new rules.
What this change has resulted in is seniors being forced into very difficult economic situations at a very difficult time in their lives. Seniors in this situation not only face the stress and anxiety of living away from their spouse but also the increased financial stress that comes with the additional costs of long-term care. It is just plain common-sense that the spouse that is now being forced to live on their own in the marital home has the right to be reassessed as a ‘single’ individual. They are being involuntarily forced into a situation where they must pay the costs associated with running a household on their own when they previously had the support of the income from their partner. Some seniors have even gone so far as to consider filing for divorce so that they can receive the benefits that they need to survive.
Furthermore, I am extremely disappointed that the Government has not been open and transparent about this change. It has been quietly swept under the rug with the hopes that no one will come to realize what has been done. I am here to tell the Government that I have had several seniors in my riding that are being significantly impacted by this unfair change. This Government has promised openness and transparency. Why was this change not announced to the public? Why was this not made clear to seniors from the outset? Did the Government really think that they could get away with this? Is the Government using this change as a cost-savings measure to offset their out of control spending?
I call on the Government to reverse this irresponsible change which will put undue financial hardship on low-income seniors at an already difficult time in their lives.