Help for low-income seniors

Originally published in the The Winnipeg Free Press on March 23rd, 2011. To go to the The Winnipeg Free Press website please click here

THEY helped build a nation, but they’re also some of its poorest.

And now they could possibly determine the outcome of the federal election expected this spring.

That was the sentiment of the Canadian Association of Retired People (CARP), which lobbies for older Canadians in the wake of Tuesday’s budget.

“Seniors are politically engaged,” CARP spokeswoman Susan Eng said. “They are a key constituency because they vote all the time. If they feel they’ve been manipulated… “

The Harper government said its budget was designed to take action to help low-income seniors.

“In communities across our country, there are seniors struggling to pay their bills each month,’ Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in his budget speech. “Often they are women; often they are widowed. They worked hard their whole lives for their families and communities, but lack any pension income.’

But Eng said what could earn the wrath of seniors are “enhancements” in the budget that sound terrific, but in reality don’t help Canada’s poorest seniors much. Low-income seniors will only benefit slightly from an increase in the annual Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) of $600 for a single senior earning less than $2,000 a year and $840 for couples with combined incomes under $4,000.

“It will improve the financial security of some 680,000 Canadians who helped build our country, to help them live their senior years in dignity,’ Flaherty said.

Eng said what’s more troublesome is the increase, and the rest of the budget, could be more a pre-election ploy than a fiscal blueprint to govern. “If all this was an election platform, then I say shame on you,” she said.

In the budget, there is also a new program to help older workers who want to keep working get into the workforce and a plan to eliminate the mandatory retirement age for federally regulated employees unless there is an occupational requirement. There’s also a commitment by Ottawa to provide additional help to Canadians saving for retirement, including self-employed Canadians, through a new, low-cost pension plan. Ottawa also pledged to work with the provinces to implement the Pooled Registered Pension Plan as soon as possible and continue to look at a modest enhancement to the Canada Pension Plan.

© The Winnipeg Free Press

Keywords: seniors, mandatory retirement, GIS