Online world leaves some seniors in the dark: advocate

·3 min read

Tapping your credit card to pay for a few groceries may seem like nothing to most, but for many seniors it’s a challenge.

Early in the pandemic lockdown, it was insurmountable.

“A lot of people in the beginning were still getting cheques versus direct-deposit,” Elizabeth Siegel said Thursday. “(They) were not able to go to the bank, and some places were not even taking cash. We do hear from a lot of seniors who do not have credit cards or even debit cards.”

Siegel, director of information and referral with SeniorsNL, says volunteers were able to keep up with the demand by promptly returning messages to the seniors’ hotline from home.

“The personality of the calls sort of shifted. The first two months were definitely all about, ‘How do I get food to myself, how do I get my prescriptions, how do I get to my doctor’s appointment,’ and also taxes.”

With the help of federal and provincial funding, FoodFirstNL was seconded to co-ordinate food deliveries. SeniorsNL provided resources and information on foodbanks for the venture.

“That was a really essential service. For many, that was life-saving.”

While the tone of calls has somewhat returned to normal, many seniors are still encountering roadblocks, and one of them is access to the Internet.

In short, many don’t have it.

All the advice for seniors that’s on the province’s COVID-19 website doesn’t help someone who can’t access it, Siegel said. Many seniors didn’t know even the most basic pandemic guidelines.

“People who want to go out on their back porch to sit in the sun because they didn’t know if it was safe or not. Is it safe to handle money? That sort of thing,” she said.

“If someone doesn’t have access to the Internet, we will print out a form and mail it to them.”

Even though it’s possible to call about government services such as renewing a driver’s licence, the wait times can be long. Some seniors only have cellphones with limited minutes.

“So, they cannot be on the phone on hold for an hour because that will be all of their minutes for the rest of the month,” said Siegel.

On Thursday, federal Seniors Minister Deb Shulte held a virtual roundtable discussion with provincial Liberal MPs and advocates to discuss the continued challenges for seniors as a second wave of COVID-19 crashes over most of Canada west of the Atlantic bubble.

The event was closed to media, but in an interview afterwards, Shulte outlined some of the financial help Ottawa has funneled to seniors and lower income citizens.

That included an automatic GST credit in April, and top-ups on old age security and guaranteed income supplement in July.

“But we knew that wouldn’t cover everything,” she said. “Seniors need more help than that.”

She said continued assistance for seniors and community supports will come through the New Horizons for Seniors program, as well as the $19-billion Safe Restart Agreement that includes a vulnerable populations component.

“It’s really important, because Newfoundland and Labrador are significantly higher on the aging population side of things,” she said.

SeniorsNL Information Line : 709-737-2333 or (toll-free in N.L.) 1-800-563-559

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram