Manitoba

$200 cheques for Manitoba seniors draw mix of praise, criticism

Earlier this week, Manitoba's premier announced $200 cheques for seniors to help pay for increased costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. But some wonder if there is a better way to help those in need.

Make Poverty History Manitoba says benefit for seniors should have been based on income

Premier Brian Pallister at the Catherine Place seniors' apartment complex in Winnipeg on Aug. 30, 2019, during the last provincial election campaign. Pallister has defended his government's plan to mail $200 cheques to all Manitoba seniors who filed tax returns in 2018. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Some Manitobans who will soon be getting $200 in the mail are questioning whether the blanket assistance program for seniors is the best way to spend government money during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister announced every person in the province aged 65 or older who filed a 2018 tax return would be getting the one-time refundable tax credit, in the form of a mailed cheque for $200.

"It's a nice gesture," said Al Ribble, 72. "It kind of helps with some people ... buying groceries or trying to live through this scenario."

Friday was the first time he had heard about the $200. The retiree said even though he has a government pension, the extra cash will be nice.

Al Ribble, 72, said he thinks the $200 cheques are a nice gesture. He said he might spend the cash on something for his granddaughter, Naiya. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The decision to give cheques to every senior regardless of income has been criticized, however.

Make Poverty History Manitoba says the money would be more effective if it was targeted.

"We were disappointed that the benefits for seniors was not income-tested," said Molly McCracken, a committee member with the group and a director at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The money could have been better spent by topping up existing supports for low-income seniors, she said. 

A Statistics Canada study released this week suggests that seniors are the age group least financially vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. 

Senior Bill Harrison said aside from spending a bit more on groceries, his expenses haven't changed during the pandemic.

"If it was a means test I wouldn't have qualified for it, I could tell you that," he said.

"There's people that need it a lot more than me and my wife … which probably would have been a better way to go about it."

'Show a little respect': Pallister

But Tom Farrell, who is the president of the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres, said the cash will help many who have incurred extra costs during the pandemic.

"There are many seniors who can use that money right now. Basic things like the cost of getting a prescription filled, the cost of driving somewhere," said Farrell, 81.

He explained he'd had to spend more in prescription dispensing fees and gas during the pandemic because the provincial government had limited prescriptions to a one-month supply, rather than the usual maximum of 90-day refills.

The province lifted that limit for most prescriptions on Friday.

Senior Bill Harrison said aside from spending a bit more on groceries, his expenses haven't changed during the pandemic. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Pallister has defended the program, saying Thursday criticism of the assistance ignores the stress that every senior is facing during the COVID-19 crisis.

"It's a $200 payment to show a little respect for our seniors, a little love, a little appreciation," he said during a news conference.

"A lot of seniors would appreciate that money. It might just help them pay a few bills that they didn't think they were going to have, living on a fixed income."

Feds face call to increase CPP

The Canadian Association for Retired Persons said many seniors have been affected by an increased cost of living, including spending more for grocery delivery and prescription dispensing fees.

Some discounted community services have also closed during the pandemic, CARP said, and seniors' retirement savings may be affected by the dip in the stock markets.

The association said the $200 is welcome, and called on the federal government to increase old age security and Canada pension plan survivor benefits.

"I'm certain seniors in other Canadian provinces would welcome a program similar to the rebate being offered by Manitoba," said CARP chief community officer Anthony Quinn.

He added that CARP has heard anecdotally that Manitoba seniors who are not in financial distress are encouraging the idea of cashing the cheque and donating the $200 to a charity that supports seniors, or directly to another senior who is in need.

The premier's office said Pallister plans to donate his cheque to an unnamed charity.

WATCH | $200 cheques for Manitoba seniors draw mix of praise, criticism:

Some Manitobans who will soon be getting $200 in the mail are questioning whether the blanket assistance program for seniors is the best way to spend government money during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2:09

With files from Ian Froese

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