Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Old age security rules discriminatory toward poor single seniors

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For those who have laboured and paid taxes for 40 or more years, it's time to get something back. For some, however, this return on their lifetime of work investment does not come so readily or equitably.

Recently in the Senate, P.E.I.'s representative, Catherine Callbeck, spoke about the fact single or divorced seniors 60 to 64 are not eligible for the old age security allowance, even if they are considered low-income seniors.

Low-income married couples are eligible for this allowance, if one of them is receiving the old age pension and guaranteed income supplement. Low-income surviving spouses (60-64) are eligible for the allowance for the survivor.

However, as the senator who frequently champions the cause of senior Canadians pointed out, there is no allowance for single low-income seniors.

This is a flaw in the OAS allowance criteria that should be fixed. The criteria, as it stands, means single or divorced seniors are not eligible to apply for benefits their married or widowed contemporaries are receiving.

Those single or divorced seniors are more likely to be in need of this allowance, having to rely on only one income while senior couples have two incomes to support one household.

If the OAS allowance goes to widows and widowers, why are those who have never married or are divorced not eligible to apply for the same allowance?

"The issue is quite simple," Callbeck said during the debate in the Senate. "As it stands now, certain low-income seniors are being denied a benefit under the old age security program -- the OAS Allowance -- simply due to marital status."

Callbeck promised to continue to press for changes because of the number of Island seniors living below the poverty line who could really use this additional income.

The federal government should not exclude one group of people from receiving assistance just because they never married or are divorced. That's discrimination. The senator is right -- it must be rectified.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 27, 2013 A15

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