NDP urges Liberals to detail impact of COVID aid on benefits for seniors, families
OTTAWA – The New Democrats are calling on the federal government to get a full account of how much Canadians have lost in benefits after they relied on emergency financial aid last year.
In a letter to Treasury Secretary Chrystia Freeland, the NDP critic in the filing noted that federal officials in the spring considered which families would lose benefits the most this year.
Daniel Blaikie said his party wanted to know why the Liberals didn’t give a clear warning about the implications when officials first became aware of the possibility.
The reason for the drop in benefits was that the government counted the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and its successor, the Canada Recovery Benefit, as income for the purposes of calculating the benefit amount.
As income increases, the value of benefits decreases.
The government warns people that benefits will be treated as income, often framed around the need to get rid of some of those benefits because of potential impacts at tax time.
But Blaikie said there was no such advance warning for parents receiving the Canada Child Benefit or low-income seniors receiving a guaranteed income supplement.
Now he wants the government to find a way to help those affected.
“If receiving pandemic benefits was going to change people’s access to those programs, there should have been a fair warning from the government,” Blaikie said.
Freeland’s office in a statement noted that the government has provided assistance of up to $1,200 per child under the age of 6 this year because of the pandemic, adding that the government will “continue in It’s for Canadians as we end the fight against COVID-19 and build a better future for all.”
Internal government documents obtained by the Press of Canada under the access to information law show that low-income families are expected to see the steepest drop in support through the Canada Child Benefit.
Emergency aid reduces income supplement payments for 183,417 seniors, who have lost about $3,500 on average this year. About 83,000 seniors receiving CERB or one of three federal rehabilitation benefits have been pushed above the income threshold to qualify for the guaranteed income supplement.
There are other benefits that are calculated based on income, which is why Blaikie is asking the government to make public how many people have seen their benefits drop and how much they lost.
The government ended the Canada Rehabilitation Benefit last month, and the remaining two rehabilitation benefits – one for stay-at-home parents with sick children and another for workers in need of sick days – will come to an end. ends on Saturday.
The government estimates the extra weeks will help 114,000 sick benefit claimants and 404,000 carers. It is estimated to be worth $271.1 million, a fraction of the nearly $32.9 billion spent on three recovery benefits so far.
The Liberals have promised to extend benefits until May for embargoed workers, but need congressional approval to do so.
A federal analysis of where CERB payments went last year found the payments closely overlap with Canada’s distribution of unemployment over the same period.
Officials wrote in a brief notice in August to Employment Secretary Carla Qualtrough that the proposed help data “is commensurate with workers’ need for income support to provide for themselves and their families during the difficult time of the pandemic.”
The Canadian Press obtained this document under the Access to Information Act.
Blaikie says the help could be futile if people can’t pay their bills this year. That’s why he requested a meeting with Freeland to discuss the matter.
“We should just sit down and figure out together what we have to do to make sure we don’t leave these people behind and the effects we feared last year on them and others won’t come pass this year,” he said.
This Canadian Press report was first published on November 19, 2021.