(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the one-time payment of up to $500 for seniors to offset additional costs from COVID-19 will be delivered the week of July 6.

Seniors have been anxiously awaiting the payment, after the federal government promised on May 12 to spend $2.5 billion sending these payments.

Those who qualify for the Old Age Security benefit are eligible for a tax-free payment of $300, while those who receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement will get an additional $200. The 2.2 million seniors who qualify for both receive $500.

Speaking outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Thursday, Trudeau said he hopes these funds make a difference.

“Even as we start to reopen parts of the economy, many seniors will have to stay home for longer to protect their health. And that’s really weighing on them. So, our government stepped up to help them weather this storm,” he said.

In April the government initiated a one-time payment through the Goods and Services Tax, which delivered $375 to single seniors and $510 to senior couples.

Laura Tamblyn Watts, the CEO of CanAge, a national seniors’ advocacy organization, told CTV News the benefit is “a long-time coming.”

“That was announced some months ago and it’s going to take a long time,” she said. “It’s good to have a date but seniors right now are really in need so the money can’t come soon enough.”

She said her organization would like to see this be an ongoing payment, not distributed on a one-time basis.

“Surely their expenses aren’t going to be less in August or September so we would like to see that this actually be instituted on a rolling basis. One time is not enough.”

Seniors across the country have expressed frustration with the slow implementation of the aid package as costs of living have risen due to the pandemic. Many are absorbing delivery costs of groceries and medications with limited public transit options.

In an interview on CTV’s Power Play on Thursday, Seniors Minister Deb Schulte attributed the delay in distributing the funds to a hefty rejig of the current OAS and GIS system to enable additional cash flow.

“We wanted it to be a simple, straightforward program that did not expose seniors to the risk that we’re seeing with some of the other programs where [Canadians] have to apply,” she said.

Schulte said the application process exposes the system to fraud. The government has acknowledged fraudulent claims to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and other government aid programs.

“We have seen that happening. We know seniors are targeted for fraud, especially if they’re not necessarily comfortable with the process or being online. So we wanted to make sure that they got this tax-free automatic payment as quickly as possible, but as safely as possible.”

When asked why the government chose a one-time payment, understanding that economic strain from the pandemic will continue past July, Schulte says the government decided delivering a lump sum amount was the most effective support mechanism.

“We decided that wasn’t the best way to support seniors, it was better to give them the one-time larger payment to be able to have the money now to cope with the additional costs that they were facing,” she said.

Long-term care crisis

COVID-19 has ravaged long-term care homes across the country, with high death rates in some facilities. Responding to calls from the Ontario and Quebec governments, the Canadian military has been deployed to a host of homes to help staff with patient care.

Two recent reports from the Canadian Armed Forces paint a bleak picture of the conditions in these facilities. Military personnel cite a severe staffing shortage, an inadequate supply of necessary medications and COVID-19 protective equipment, and in some cases elderly abuse.

The Trudeau government has stayed mum on how specifically they will support tackling the crisis in long-term care, but have doubled down on their commitment to back provinces where the jurisdiction falls.

“We have been there with the provinces and territories, we will continue to be there, and we will have lessons learned that we can then use as we come out of this pandemic to improve the outcomes for seniors in this country,” said Schulte.

Source: CTV, 4 June 2020.