Ontario defends $6.2M cut to public transit tax credit for seniors
Advocacy group says cut is 'significant' and could affect seniors on fixed incomes
The Ontario government is defending a $6.2 million budget cut to a refundable tax credit program for seniors that helps to cover public transit costs, saying it expects "no negative impacts" as a result.
But TTCRiders, an advocacy group for public transit users, says the cut is "significant," thousands of seniors on fixed incomes have benefited from the tax credit and the cut could mean public transit will become more expensive for people 65 and older.
Bob Nichols, spokesperson for the Ontario ministry of transportation, said in an email this week that the budget for the Ontario Seniors' Public Transit Tax Credit was "adjusted" this fiscal year to better reflect the anticipated costs of the program.
"The program has not changed and no negative impacts to seniors are anticipated. The parameters and eligibility criteria related to the program remain the same," Nichols said.
"Prior years experience has helped the ministry right-size the budget."
Ministry of Transportation expenditure estimates indicate that $9.7 million was budgeted for the Ontario Seniors' Public Transit Tax Credit program in 2018-2019, but only $3.5 million is budgeted for the same program in 2019-2020.
It is unclear how many seniors took advantage of the tax credit in the last tax year that statistics are available. CBC Toronto has contacted Canada Revenue Agency to obtain a number of recipients, but the CRA has not yet responded with a figure.
Scott Blodgett, spokesperson for the Ontario ministry of finance, declined to provide details on how many people benefit from the program, saying the ministry does not publish statistics on numbers of recipients.
According to Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of TTC Riders, the program has made a difference to seniors in Ontario and the provincial government is downplaying the impact of the cut.
"This two-thirds budget cut could have a negative impact on the program and could result in thousands of seniors being unable to claim the credit," Pizey-Allen said.
TTCRiders concerned about future of program itself
Pizey-Allen said the group is concerned about how the cut could affect eligibility for the tax credit and the future of the program itself. Public transit should be more affordable because it helps to reduce congestion in Ontario cities, she said.
"We are going in the wrong direction if transit becomes more expensive for seniors, many of whom are on fixed incomes and struggle to make ends meet and afford transit as it is," she said.
TTCRiders has sent a letter to Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney and Ontario Seniors Minister Raymond Cho with questions about the cut, but has not received answers yet.
The tax credit is a refundable tax credit designed to help seniors cover the costs of public transit. Ontario residents, if they are 65 years of age or older on the last day of the previous tax year in which they are claiming the credit, are eligible for it.
Seniors can claim up to $3,000 in eligible public transit costs and receive up to $450 a year.
According to the government's website, seniors can claim the tax credit on costs associated with conventional public transit services, including those provided by the TTC and Metrolinx.