Blog | August 17, 2015

By Darcy Henton, Calgary HeraldLow-income seniors have been shortchanged by a federal government administrative error in calculating Guaranteed Income Supplement payments going back several years, an Alberta government spokeswoman confirmed Monday.Federal officials notified the province of the problem late last week, Human Services spokeswoman Kathy Telfer said.“We were just made aware of the situation by the federal government, so we’re awaiting for them to finish their file review and that will give us a far better idea of the scope and the impact on Alberta,” Telfer said. “Until we get more information from the feds, it’s pretty difficult to evaluate the extent of this.”That review isn’t expected to be completed until October, she said.Telfer couldn’t say how many Albertans were affected by the mistake, but a source told the Herald the federal government advised the NDP government it is reviewing 150,000 files across Canada, including 23,400 in Alberta.The federal government did not provide the province with details about the error but said some low-income Canadians did not receive an increase in their payments when they should have and are now eligible for retroactive payments dating back as far as seven years, the source said.Conservative MP Alice Wong, minister of state for seniors, declined to comment, referring questions to media relations officials with Employment and Social Development Canada.Ministry spokeswoman Julia Sullivan said she was unable to provide any information Monday about the impact or scope of the error.“We are aware of the situation and are working on a case-by-case basis to ensure clients receive the benefits to which they are entitled as quickly as possible,” she said in an email Monday night. “Seniors are encouraged to contact Service Canada if they feel that they are not receiving all the benefits to which they are entitled.”The Guaranteed Income Supplement provides a monthly non-taxable stipend of between $507 and $765 for Canadians receiving full Old Age Security, depending on their income and circumstances. It is reviewed annually by the government to reflect increases in the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index and to determine whether the criteria for receiving it are being met.Former Conservative caucus member Brent Rathgeber, who is now running as an Independent in St. Albert-Edmonton, said the Stephen Harper government doesn’t want to talk about the mistake until after the election because it’s “an embarrassment and a political liability.”“Had Parliament been sitting, no doubt there would have been tough questions asked of the minister responsible,” he said. “Sadly, the details are going to have to wait until after the election. I think that’s unfortunate because there will be individual Canadians caught up in the interim who will have a difficult time making their ends meet.”The federal election has been called for Oct. 19.Noel Somerville, who chairs the Public Interest Alberta seniors task force, called the error “a pretty big boo-boo.”“I am sure there are a lot of seniors in dire financial straits who would really require that money, and I think the government should come clean about what happened and what they should do about it,” he said.Telfer said the mistake won’t affect Alberta’s provincial budget since the Guaranteed Income Support program is solely funded by the federal government.dhenton@calgaryherald.comRead the story on the Calgary Herald's website.