'You can't just take money from people and not tell them why': Halifax senior questions CERB clawback

A Halifax senior says he doesn't have enough to live on after his guaranteed income supplement cheques stopped coming.

He believes it's because he collected CERB last year, and experts say there are likely many others in the same situation.

Sixty-nine-year-old Elmer Paris is a familiar face in the north end neighbourhood where he's lived for years, often seen collecting bottles and cans.

These days, though, money is more than tight for Elmer, who says he hasn't seen his Guaranteed Income Supplement cheque for three months now.

"All of a sudden, the monies that we're used to getting -- gone," he told CTV News on Wednesday.

"And there's really nobody giving us any explanation."

To the best of his knowledge, Paris believes the shortfall comes because he was one of tens of millions who signed-up for CERB and other COVID-19 relief when it was offered last year.

Responses to his inquiries, he says, have been vague.

"The farthest I've been able to find out is that I'll get reassessed next July," he said.

Indeed, there are likely others in the same boat.

In a statement to CTV News, Employment and Social Development Canada, which issues GIS said "Any income that is considered to be net income under the Income Tax Act is used to determine the amount of GIS.

"Federal benefits like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) are taxable income.

"This means that CERB and CRB income in 2020 may affect GIS benefits for the July 2021 to June 2022 payment period."

A second statement, provided by the Canada Revenue Agency, acknowledges there may have been some confusion when the hastily organized programs were announced in 2020

"The CRA recognizes that when applying for benefits, applicants may make an honest mistake or apply for a benefit period for which they are not eligible for. We have published information on our website to explain how individuals in these situations can easily return overpayments," said Deandra Doyle, a spokesperson for CRA in the Atlantic Region.

"To date, the CRA has not required any individuals to repay the CERB and no repayment deadline has been established.

"The CRA is sympathetic to the fact that, for some individuals, repayment of these amounts may have financial implications.

"For this reason, payment arrangement parameters have been expanded to give Canadians more time and flexibility to repay based on their ability to pay.

"Individuals who cannot make a payment in full are advised to contact the CRA to make a payment arrangement."

But some senior's advocates say Ottawa should consider other options.

"There were a lot of seniors who applied because many seniors of that age are still working," said Bill Van Gorder, Chief Policy Officer for CARP.

"They needed money, it was available, the government gave it to them and they took it -- and who can blame them?"

Others have noted lower-income seniors are getting hit the hardest.

"And some of them are saying, 'Well, it's got to be CERB,'" said Paris.

"But, you know what? It's more than that, because you can't just take money from people and just not tell them why."

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