Low income seniors in Ontario will get a small boost this year because the province is doubling payments under its Guaranteed Annual Income System.
The increase in GAINS payments for all recipients is welcome but "long overdue," according to Diana Cable, director of policy and research for CanAge, a national seniors' advocacy organization.
Cable said the doubling, which runs for 12 months until December 2023, will make a difference to seniors who qualify for the payments.
"They are living right now with unprecedented challenges. Those on a fixed income just can't afford to keep up with inflation right now," Cable told CBC Toronto on Monday.
"They are making choices that are heartbreaking. They are making choices between things like food, heating and medications. And nobody should ever be in the position of having to decide to do an either or in those kinds of circumstances."
According to the province, the increase means the maximum GAINS payment will rise to $166 a month for single seniors and to $332 a month for couples. The province says the maximum increase amounts to nearly $1,000 per person in 2023. Monthly GAINS payments range between $2.50 and $83.
Payments 'astounding low before,' group says
Cable said CanAge would like the province to make the "extra benefits" permanent but it should review the increase to ensure it doesn't jeopardize other government financial supplements for seniors.
She said the increase will help seniors directly because it is not a tax break and CanAge is "very thankful" to see the increase. The money will help to reduce the isolation that many low income seniors experience, she added.
"It is cash in the pocket. It's not just a tax credit," she said.
"This is a great start because it was astounding low before. The payments could range from $2.50 extra to $83 extra. We're not talking a vast amount of money here. Clearly doubling that is going to make a difference," she added.
"Is it going to make enough of a difference? We're going to have to wait and see. This is better. But we are still worried about people who may fall through the cracks."
People who may fall through the cracks are those who don't qualify, she said.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy told reporters on Nov. 14, after he unveiled the increase in the fall economic statement in the Ontario legislature, that the move will benefit 200,000 low income seniors. Each senior who qualifies will receive a maximum of up to $1,000 more a month and the money will help in "these challenging times," he said.
"We have to recognize that inflation is very hurtful to many on fixed incomes and on lower incomes," Bethlenfalvy said.
Emily Hogeveen, spokesperson for Bethlenfalvy, said in a statement on Monday that the province is helping low-income seniors because of inflationary pressures.
"We are in a time of elevated inflation that has been especially challenging for those on fixed incomes and the more vulnerable in society," she said.
"This is why our government is helping approximately 200,000 of Ontario's lowest-income seniors by doubling the Guaranteed Annual Income System payment for all recipients for 12 months starting January 2023, a maximum increase of almost $1,000 per person this year."
Payments under GAINS, a monthly, non-taxable benefit to low-income Ontario seniors, are provided on top of the Old Age Security (OAS) pension and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) payments.
To be eligible for GAINS payments, a person must:
Be 65 years of age or older.
Have lived in Ontario for the past 12 months, or for 20 years since turning age 18.
Have been a Canadian resident for 10 years or more.
Receive the federal OAS pension and GIS payments.
Have an annual private income of up to $1,992, if you are a single senior, or up to $3,984 if you are a senior couple. Private income may include money from such sources as a private pension, the Canada Pension Plan, or bank interest.