A Senator yesterday issued a Christmas appeal to cabinet to redouble efforts to find destitute seniors entitled to federal benefits they never received. Cabinet says it knows of nearly 90,000 deserving pensioners who did not apply for the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
“This is serious,” said Senator Michael Duffy (Independent-P.E.I.). “These are the neediest Canadians, and they’re not claiming money that is due to them because somehow they have fallen through the cracks.”
MPs have cited elderly constituents owed benefits they never asked for in the mistaken belief they didn’t qualify, or were unaware of the program. The Guaranteed Income Supplement was introduced as a 1967 anti-poverty amendment to the Old Age Security Act.
“The Guaranteed Income Supplement is paid to those who earn less than $18,000 a year,” Duffy told the Senate. “The maximum benefit of $897 a month, for the seniors I know on Prince Edward Island, is essential to have even a subsistence existence.”
Pensioners were required to personally submit benefit claims. As late as 2015 the Department of Employment acknowledged it was pocketing $1.02 billion a year in unclaimed benefits including Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and Canada Pension Plan.
Cabinet on January 1 introduced automatic enrollment for all Canadians turning 65 as determined by tax records, but made no similar provision for pensioners already past 65 who forgot to file a claim. Senator Duffy said he petitioned Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and regulators to “comb their records to ensure we reach those who are entitled”.
“This money rightly belongs to those forgotten Canadians, people who contributed to benefits programs as taxpayers and helped build Canada and made it the greatest country in the world,” said Duffy.
The Department of Social Development in a December 3 Inquiry Of Ministry tabled in the Commons said in the past two years it mailed 192,500 letters to seniors it suspected were entitled to cheques but didn’t apply. A total 88,500 never responded. Staff estimated about 9 percent of impoverished retirees who qualify for benefits do not ask for them.
“When nearly 90,000 people don’t reply to an offer of free money, we know we have a problem and extraordinary measures are required,” said Senator Duffy: “How do we reach out to the poorest of the poor to ensure they get the benefits to which they’re entitled?”
“As we count our blessings this holiday season, let us take time to remember these poor seniors, God bless them, every one,” said Duffy.
Canada’s Chief Actuary in a 2017 Actuarial Report On The Old Age Security Program forecast the number of pensioners will increase 61 percent by 2030, from 5.8 million to 9.3 million seniors, including retirees so poor they qualify for the Guaranteed Income Supplement.