Canada

Inmates, deceased get federal fuel rebate

The federal government's plan to help people cope with soaring fuel costs is raising some eyebrows over who's been receiving cheques.

Before last fall's federal election, the Liberals promised to help low-income Canadians cover the cost of heating their homes this winter with a one-time payment of $125.

But over the past few months, critics have raised a ruckus over the way the $1.3-billion program is being run.

The fuel rebate is going out to Canadians who received the GST rebate in 1999 a list that is not exactly up to date.

For instance, cheques have been issued to prisoners, students and seniors who live with relatives and don't pay any bills, as well as dead people.

"It was such a scattergun approach," says NDP Manitoba MP Pat Martin. "It was sloppy. And even the minister of finance has readily agreed it was a very blunt instrument, and it really has a lot of problems."

There have also been complaints about some people who haven't received any rebate cheques, even though their incomes have fallen significantly over the past year.

Many landlords who have been stuck absorbing the higher heating costs are now threatening to raise rents unless they get compensation, too.

Finance Minister Paul Martin has defended the decision to get the cheques out as quickly as possible this winter to help people cover the rising cost of fuel.

The government is now reviewing the program to see if it can retrieve any of the money that was sent out by mistake. It will also consider helping people who need a rebate but didn't get a cheque in the mail.