The federal government is promising additional support for seniors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ottawa pledged Tuesday (May 12) to give a one-time, tax-free payment of $300 to eligible seniors through the Old Age Security (OAS) pension.
Those eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement will receive $200 on top of the OAS payment, for a total of $500.
The cost for the additional support tallies in at $2.5 billion, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during his daily media briefing that the payments would be available in the coming weeks.
Last month the federal government provided more than 4 million seniors with a one-time top-up through the GST credit.
Ottawa said the payment averaged $375 for single seniors and $510 for senior couples.
The government is also announced Tuesday it’s providing the New Horizons for Seniors program with $20 million to help reduce isolation and improve quality of life.
The prime minister also hinted the one-time payments won’t be the only measures available to support seniors in the coming year.
“Obviously if this [pandemic crisis] continues for another six months, for another year, we will have to continue to make adjustments and extend many programs,” Trudeau said.
“But right now what we’re looking at is the short-term support that is needed to get Canadians through this so that we can come out the other side and restart the economy soon and we won’t look at what we might need to do in six months if we’re still, heaven forbid, all locked down.”
While students and workers have been targeted will billions of dollars in financial support amid the pandemic, the prime minister said seniors generally are not in a situation in which they’ve lost income.
So instead of making the top-ups ongoing or else increasing payments for extended periods, Trudeau said the one-time payment is meant to help with additional costs brought on by the pandemic.
Those costs could include everything from added need for medication to lack of access to public transportation to nab sales at grocery stores, he said.
Trudeau said nearly 7 million seniors would benefit from the new measures.
“COVID-19 has exposed some uncomfortable truths about our society, including how we care for seniors in Canada. We’ve seen heartbreaking tragedies in long-term facilities and nursing homes across the country, overworked staff, understaffed residences, grieving families,” he said.
The prime minister added there are serious challenges facing those facilities and the federal government would be working with the provinces to find “lasting solutions” in the coming months.
Long-term facilities and nursing homes fall under provincial jurisdiction.
Trudeau said the pandemic also exposed many of the gaps in the country’s access to affordable child care, with a disproportionate number of women facing job losses.
He said his government would be working with provinces and municipalities to ensure affordable child care is available across the country.
After Deputy Minister Chrystia Freeland a day earlier said border traffic would likely increase as the Canadian and American economies reopen, Trudeau said his government has been having constructive conversations with the U.S. about the state of the border.
An agreement to restrict non-essential travel through the Canada-U.S. border expires May 21.
“We’re going to be very, very careful about reopening any international travel, including the United States, before we feel it is time,” Trudeau said, adding his government would have more to say about the border in the coming days.
Last month the prime minister said it would be a “significant” period of time before border restrictions between the two countries ease.
Those returning to Canada after being abroad are required to self-isolate for two weeks.
Those who do not present border officials with a plan for self-isolation face being placed in a hotel by the government for the two-week period.