Saturday, November 27, 2010

Big mistake by Harper government on seniors' benefits (GIS)

The Harper government is being yanked back from a big mistake on seniors' GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement benefits). Thanks to Liberal MP Gerry Byrne who saw the fallout from these changes the Harper government made this year:
Starting this May, the government began including discretionary lump-sum withdrawals from RRIFs, sometimes made for emergencies, as income for tax purposes.

As a result, low-income seniors could be pushed above the $15,815.99 minimum threshold to qualify for Guaranteed Income Supplement payments under the Old Age Security Act.

Depending on the size of the one-time withdrawal, seniors could lose some or all of the $658 monthly GIS benefit in the following year.
So, sensing the grave political damage, given there are potentially a large number of seniors who could be affected by this change, the dial back began:
The Conservatives on Friday backed down from their threat to eliminate or reduce old age security benefits for seniors withdrawing their registered retirement income funds for emergency health care
“I have instructed departmental officials to immediately put a hold on this policy while we review it completely. I have also instructed officials to contact those individuals affected directly so that their applications can be reviewed and evaluated for eligibility under the old policy,” Finley said.
But for Gerry Byrne's work, might have been a lot of harm done to seniors' income benefits. Still might not be over if the Conservatives muck it up. They are putting the policy on hold and reviewing it. Some seniors might be caught in the middle as this policy that has been in effect for months now gets reviewed. We'll see what that brings.

There's another big outstanding pension issue coming this week too, the disabled Nortel pensioners face a last chance in the Senate for government action to prevent them from losing benefits at the end of the year. Liberals have pledged statutory changes so that long-term disability plans like the Nortel one will be better protected. A Conservative dominated Senate committee said no to such an effort this past week and the full Conservative dominated Senate is likely to do so again without significant public pressure. One to watch this week.