North Island - Powell River MP Rachel Blaney. (Rachel Blaney photo)

MP Rachel Blaney feels low-income boost for seniors falls short, but is pleased with the support for commercial fishers

‘Seniors in our communities have been asking for help with additional costs due to COVID-19’

North Island – Powell River MP Rachel Blaney feels that the May 12 announcement of a one-time boost for low-income seniors is better than nothing, but will not address the ongoing challenges faced by many seniors across Canada, especially during the current COVID-19 crisis.

The government announced that the Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) would be increased by $300 and $200 respectively for one month for those receiving the benefits.

They will also allow seniors an additional three months to file their taxes (until October 1) without it resulting in interruptions to their benefits.

Blaney, who was the NDP’s spokesperson for seniors issues during her first term as MP for North Island-Powell River, has been calling for an increase to OAS and GIS rates long before the COVID-19 crisis resulted in increased costs for many vulnerable seniors.

Blaney also introduced a private members bill one year ago that would give seniors a full year’s grace period for filing their taxes before their GIS payments would be suspended.

While the details of the timing and tax status of the one-time payments have not yet been confirmed, Blaney says for many seniors it won’t come soon enough or be enough to cover their shortfall.

“Seniors in our communities have been asking for help with additional costs due to COVID-19. We’re more than two-months in and this is the first direct support announced for them,” said Blaney. “Increases like this should be permanent and ongoing to ensure no seniors in this country have to live in poverty, not a one-time-only crisis benefit.”

Blaney and the NDP have been calling for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to be delivered as a universal payment that would have included seniors from its announcement in late-March.

In other federal news, the May 14 announcement of support for commercial fishers is welcomed by Blaney.

While many details remain to be confirmed, the Fish Harvester Benefit and Fish Harvester Grant, as well as changes to EI fishing benefits aim to support the many commercial fishers who do not meet the specific criteria for previously announced business supports such as the wage subsidy and Canada Emergency Business Account.

“The COVID-19 crisis is just the latest challenge for commercial fishers on our coast, many of whom had devastating seasons last year due to restrictions,” said Blaney. “Fishing is an important part of food security and of our culture and economy in smaller coastal communities. It needs our support so that younger generations can see a sustainable future in fishing.”

The Fish Harvester Grant will offer up to $10,000 based on “historic revenues” for harvesters unable to access the Canada Emergency Business Account. The Fish Harvester Benefit will provide self-employed and sharesperson crew members who can show a 25% income loss with up to $847 per week much like the wage subsidy program.

For Employment Insurance fish harvesters will be able to reference previous years for eligibility.

In the coming days Blaney will be working with NDP fisheries critic Gord Johns and Minister Bernadette Jordan to confirm eligibility criteria and ensure it meets the needs of local fishers. “As the details come out I want to hear from fishers in our communities to make sure these programs work for them and bring any gaps to the Minister.”

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