Seniors Advocate Calls for Old Age Security Pension top up age discrimination

 Seniors advocate calls Old Age Security pension top-up age discrimination

By Judy Cole-Underhill

In July, the federal government announced it would deliver a one-time, $500 payment to seniors age 75 and over to top up their Old Age Security (OAS) pensions. Those cheques are now being delivered.

The same age group will also get a permanent increase of 10 per cent to their OAS beginning in July 2022, providing an additional $766 over the first year.

Stu Fleischaker of Speerville is just turning 75 and recently received his $500 cheque from Ottawa.

"I was glad to get it," Fleischaker said. "But who knows why government does these things just because we're getting older. If this is vote buying, they are not going to get votes from the under age 75 group."

Criticism among other seniors is mounting as those under age 75 are only getting a 1.3 per cent increase in their pension starting in July 2022, bringing the maximum monthly OAS pension amount to $626.49, up from $618.45. Over the coming year, the increase is worth up to $96.48. The Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) and the Allowances will also be adjusted for inflation.

"Just handing out money to a target group is an odd thing to do," said Ron Corey, a senior from Woodstock. "I don't understand the government's rationale. It is arbitrary and unjust, and it does seem discriminatory. There's nothing I can do to make myself 75. I appreciate the people who are getting it and need it very much. But it's not just people 75 and over who are getting hit with the high cost of living. It's basically all low-income people."

Cecile Cassista, executive director of the province's Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents Rights, says the decision by the federal government to create an unlevel playing field for OAS divides seniors into groups based on age.

"They should have given every senior the $500 and the 10 per cent increase next year," Cassista said. "They are discriminating and trying to divide seniors. They should rectify it and give the same benefits to everyone. It's unfair to seniors (under age 75) who have worked hard and are living on low-income."

Cassista wrote a letter to Ottawa earlier this year when the OAS issue first came up in the 2021 federal budget. She was informed that the $500 top-up and 10 per cent increase next year are meant to support older seniors living longer and have exhausted their savings or investments. However, she is concerned the extra OAS benefits may cause a clawback in the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) paid to low-income seniors.

"Each year when the cost of living is applied, many seniors are clawed back, in some cases as high as $12-$15, and that's a lot for a senior on low-income," she explained. "When any increase is applied to the Old Age Security, the grid for the GIS should be adjusted to accommodate the increase. This does not happen, and it only creates a hardship for many seniors by having the amount clawed back."

Cassista stressed the criteria for OAS needs to be reviewed so that seniors do not fall through the cracks and fail to qualify for GIS. Some seniors miss out on qualifying by a few dollars, she said, and then cannot apply for other provincial benefits paid to GIS recipients, such as the $400 winter fuel benefit.

Other questions are also swelling about whether wealthy seniors 75 and over should receive the $500 top up and 10 per cent increase next year. The federal government still needs to provide clarification on this point, Cassista noted.

The one-time $500 payment was part of the 2021 budget to support older seniors' higher expenses and will apply to 3.3 million seniors who are eligible for the OAS pension in June 2021 and were born on or before June 30, 1947. No action is required by seniors, who will automatically receive the payment if they are eligible.

The federal budget also included the permanent increase of 10 per cent to the OAS pension, to be implemented in July 2022 for seniors aged 75 and over. The increase means an additional $766 to full pensioners over the first year and will be the first permanent increase to the OAS pension since 1973, other than adjustments due to inflation. The federal government also restored the age of eligibility for the OAS pension and GIS to 65 from 67.

On Aug. 24, the federal government announced it would increase the GIS by $500 annually for single seniors and $750 for senior couples, starting at age 65.

"The Government is continuing to improve the financial security of Canadians in retirement after a lifetime of hard work," said Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte. "Increasing Old Age Security for older seniors helps all Canadians with their extra needs later in life. While no single solution can meet every need, step by step, our progressive measures are making a real difference in the lives of seniors. Canadian seniors can always count on us to listen, understand their needs and work hard to deliver for them."

Photo: Cecile Cassista (Submitted)