Some of the $200 cheques issued to all Manitoba seniors by the provincial government to help cover extra expenses incurred during the COVID-19 lockdown have bounced.
Winnipeg seniors Helen Garbacz and her husband Steve were happy about the two cheques because they came at a great time: their almost two-decade-old washer had called it quits and they wanted to buy a new one.
Helen said she deposited the cheques in an ATM at her bank but realized something was wrong the following day, when she checked her account online.
"Suddenly $200 was taken out of our account," she said Tuesday.
"When I called, all the bank could say was one of the cheques was non-negotiable. That was two weeks ago and (Tuesday) they called to say there were a few of the cheques issued by the government with the account number not coded properly."
Steve said the bank is mailing the cheque back to the couple and then they'll be sending it to the government to be replaced.
"But how long will that be?" he said.
"There are other seniors who don't do online banking who wouldn't know this has happened yet. It could be a month or more until this is rectified. How do you fix this?"
Premier Brian Pallister announced last month that the province was spending $45 million so every Manitoban age 65 or older who had filed a 2018 tax return would get a $200 cheque to help cover unexpected expenses in the wake of the pandemic.
Some observers said the money should have been targeted at low-income seniors. Pallister was also criticized for his decision to include a letter signed by him in every envelope.
A provincial government spokesman confirmed Tuesday there had been a problem with some of the cheques.
"The province is aware of isolated issues with less than 20 of the more than 200,000 cheques issued," he said.
"As a result of a coding number that was improperly printed by the supplier, a small amount of cheques were rejected by financial institutions. Manitoba Finance is reprinting cheques for affected individuals and distributing as soon as they are reported."
Connie Newman, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres, said no seniors have called them to complain about the cheques.
"It's unfortunate there appears to be a problem with some of these cheques," said Molly McCracken, a committee member of Make Poverty History, which has said the money should have been targeted at helping low-income seniors.
"People living below the poverty line were looking forward to this. It would have been better for the government to have done it through Pharmacare or the 55-plus benefit."
As for the Garbacz family, they are still getting the washer even though they'll be out $200 for a while.
"I need a new washer," Helen said. "But some seniors were going to give their cheques to charity — how long will it be before another cheque is issued to them?"
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
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Updated on Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at 8:09 PM CDT: Typo fixed.