Budget offers small funding bump for poor seniors

Originally published in the Times Colonist on March 23rd, 2011. To go to the Times Colonist website please click here

OTTAWA — The Conservative government offered a helping hand to Canada’s very poor seniors and older citizens who want to stay in the workforce Tuesday but seniors groups said the federal budget measures didn’t go far enough to lift the most vulnerable out of poverty.

“We are very disappointed it didn’t go farther in retirement security areas, homelessness, homecare and home support,” said Barry Thorsteinson, president of the National Pensioners and Seniors Citizens Federation.

The Conservatives’ budget included a small increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to help seniors — who live near or below the poverty line — make ends meet.

The Harper government pledged $600 more a year for single seniors receiving income of less than $2,000 a year, and $840 for couples with an annual income of less than $4,000.

The GIS top-up gradually decreases and is phased out completely for seniors earning $4,400 a year and couples earning $7,360.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the measure would help 680,000 seniors who are struggling to pay their bills each month.

“Often they are women, often they are widowed,” he said. “They work hard their whole lives for their families and communities, but lack any pension income.”

But Thorsteinson said the GIS increase “came up very short” and was worth one-third of the improvements necessary.

Susan Eng, vice-president of CARP, a seniors advocacy group, echoed that sentiment.

“When you look at the numbers, $50 more a month for people who are already living well under the poverty line is not going to lift them out of poverty,” she said.

“The announcements don’t amount to a great deal. It’s not nothing, but it’s close to nothing,” she said.

Eng was pleased the Tories announced plans to eliminate the mandatory retirement age for all federally regulated employees.

Canadians employed in such federally regulated sectors as banking, transportation and telecommunications will be able to stay in the workforce longer regardless of collective agreements that stipulate a forced retirement age.

Only one exception to the mandatory retirement age will be maintained: a security and safety exemption that ensures commercial pilots, for example, can’t fly into their 90s, a federal financial official said.

Budget 2011 also includes $10 million more over two years for the popular New Horizons for Seniors Programs.

The increase means spending for such seniors programs as writing workshops, physical activity groups and art classes is $35 million.

The budget also extends the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers until 2013-14 to allow older workers to access training and employment programs so they can find a new career or a new job.

The federal government also pledged $3 million to help support new community-integrated palliative care models.

© The Times Colonist

Keywords: seniors, budget, GIS, mandatory retirement, poverty