'We're trying to survive': Seniors grow frustrated over slow rollout of COVID-19 financial aid
OTTAWA -- When Paul MacLellan first heard the government was going to give seniors up to $500 to help with the rising costs of COVID-19, he said he was "excited."
Now, two weeks after the announcement and with no timeline of when he can expect the funds, MacLellan and others like him say they feel like they've been left on the back burner.
"It really comes down to paying bills, because I think a lot of seniors, whether they want to admit it or not, we're in debt. We're trying to survive. I work part time just to keep myself going, and so that $500 would have really helped me with my bill payments," said the 68-year-old from Toronto.
Doreen Lund, a 75-year-old from Brampton, Ont., shares MacLellan's concerns. She said that due to a health condition, she doesn’t feel safe leaving the house — which has resulted in rising costs associated with things like delivery and extra pharmacy fees due to new measures for prescription refills.
"It's just frustrating, it really is. It’s aggravating," Lund said.
"Three hundred dollars is not going to go a long way for a senior, really, I mean it's a little added bonus that helps, but it could be more. Even if they did it quarterly it would help, during this time. But I'd like to see the first one, to begin with."
The government announced on May 12 that eligible seniors would receive a one time, tax-free payment of up to $500 to help them cope with rising costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any senior who is eligible for the Old Age Security (OAS) pension is supposed to receive a $300 payment. An additional $200 is slated to be sent to seniors eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). No application is required to receive this one-time payment.
The Government of Canada website lays out the details for the new payment for seniors, but where it lists its date of payment, there's only one line: "We will issue the payment as soon as possible."
Speaking to CTVNews.ca, Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Seniors Minister Deb Schulte, said that the payments will be sent out "within weeks, not months."
"It certainly won't be two months," he said. "We don't have the exact date, and we're going to get that out as soon as we can."
With little information coming from the government, many seniors guessed that this payment would coincide with May's OAS pension deposit. However, they were dismayed to find there was nothing extra when the money landed in their accounts Tuesday night.
"I did get my OAS payment today, but I didn't get the extra $300 which is what I was expecting. I thought this would have been the easy fix for them to get it out," Janet Clarke, a 70 year old from Brantford, told CTVNews.ca.
Clarke said she didn't understand why the money was rolling out so much more slowly and less transparently than other benefits, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
The CERB, which was announced on March 25, opened for applications on April 6, and saw payments delivered to bank accounts within 10 days.
"Everything else that they said they're going to do came out very quickly."
"I feel as a senior that we're not as important…Don't tell us you're going to give us this, and then don't give it to us," Clarke said.
When CTVNews.ca asked Bardsley about these concerns, he explained that the OAS database is half a century old and uses outdated technology — something the government was planning to upgrade this December.
He also noted that the government gave a round of support to "over four million" seniors in April through the Goods and Services Tax (GST) credit, which he said "pays an average of $375 to single seniors and $510 to senior couples."
"We know that seniors are anxious to receive the details of when the payment will be made available, we're working to get that final firm date as soon as we can."
REPORTS OF MISTREATMENT ADD TO FRUSTRATION
Meanwhile, seniors say they're beginning to feel like they're getting left behind. As reports emerge of disturbing mistreatment of seniors at long-term care homes, the feeling is only compounded.
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) released a report on Tuesday that detailed shocking and disturbing conditions within five of the Ontario long-term care homes where the military had been sent to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Military members say they witnessed insect infestations, force feeding and residents "crying out for help" with no response from staff for up to two hours.
They also highlighted serious concerns about shortages of personal protective equipment, staffing shortages, and flagrant failures to isolate COVID-positive patients.
"It's pathetic that this is how they care for people that have virtually spent all our lives working for the country, paying our taxes, and doing what we can and being proud to be a Canadian, then they treat us like that. It’s not a Third World Country, and yet that's what it feels like some days," said Lund.
MacLellan echoed the concerns.
"Seniors always seem to be on the back burner, for example… we've known about the senior homes and the conditions that some of these homes are operating under for years and nobody did anything because it comes down to money, so seniors are always on the back burner," he said.
From the mounting frustrations over payments to the reports mistreatment in long-term care homes, MacLellan had a message for younger Canadians about how seniors are treated.
"Look at what’s going on and fix it," he said, "before you end up in a home where you're dying because you’re being force fed, because there isn’t enough money to support the staff there that they need… So just fix it."
With files from CTV's Rachel Aiello and CTV National News' Genevieve Beauchemin