Reply letter to NPF from the Honourable Deb Shulte, Minister for Seniors

February 12, 2021

 

I am responding to your email of April 24, 2020, which was sent to my constituency office, and your subsequent correspondence of April 29, 2020, which was forwarded to me by the Office of the Prime Minister. You wrote to express concerns regarding the impact of the extension of the federal income tax deadline on the renewal of Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits and the state of long-term care homes. I regret the delay in replying.

On May 12, I announced measures that ensured GIS benefits paid to low-income seniors were maintained. Over 200,000 seniors benefited from this tax filing extension. Every year, in advance of the July to June payment period for GIS benefits, Service Canada assesses whether individuals who receive the GIS remain entitled to the benefit based on the prior calendar year’s income.

Thanks to the outreach public servants and others have been doing, as well as virtual volunteer tax clinics, this year will have the lowest number of suspensions going back to 2001, the last year with available data. GIS recipients who have not already filed their 2019 income tax information should contact Service Canada by calling, toll-free, 1-800-277-9914 (English) or 1-800-277-9915 (French) and provide their income information over the phone as soon as possible.

To be clear, Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan benefits will always continue to flow as they are not based on income.

In your email of April 24, you also asked about the impact that the deferred federal income tax deadline may have on the Goods and Services Tax rebate payment to seniors. As the administration of the tax credit falls under the purview of my colleague, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue, I have taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of your email to her.

One of the greatest tragedies of this pandemic is the lives lost in long-term care homes. Like Canadians across the country, we were alarmed by the stories that have emerged. In a country like Canada, we should not need to have soldiers taking care of seniors.

The pandemic has highlighted the challenges that the long-term care sector has struggled with for many years. It has also shone a light on the essential work of personal support workers across the country, who must be better recognized for the contributions they make to our society.

While long-term care is regulated by provincial and territorial governments, the federal government will:

  • work with the provinces and territories to set new, national standards for long-term care;
  • look at further measures for personal support workers; and
  • develop Criminal Code penalties for those who neglect seniors under their care, putting them in danger.

 

The Criminal Code is one tool within federal jurisdiction that we can use to hold those who knowingly put seniors in danger accountable for their actions. Taken together with other measures, this can help better protect seniors and stop these kinds of tragedies from happening again.

The Government of Canada has been taking a number of steps to help authorities respond to the significant challenges faced by our country’s long-term care facilities during this pandemic.

To help manage the spread of the virus, the Public Health Agency of Canada released guidelines to help residents and health care workers in long-term care homes remain safe and healthy (www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevent-control-covid-19-long-term-care-homes.html). It also released interim guidance on care for all long-term care residents during the pandemic (www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/guidance-documents/residents-long-term-care-homes-covid-19.html).

The Government of Canada recognizes the vital done work by health care workers in long-term care facilities and has taken steps to make sure that its response to the current pandemic addresses their needs. On May 7, the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, announced up to $3 billion in federal funding to the provinces and territories to increase the wages of low-income essential workers, which can include front-line workers in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The Government is investing billions of dollars to purchase personal protective equipment for health care workers, including long-term care workers. As part of that work, we created the Essential Services Contingency Reserve, which will ensure that personal protective equipment and other critical supplies will always be available to those caring for Canadians.

We have provided over 14 million COVID-19 rapid tests to the provinces and territories to support them in ramping up testing. Unlike polymerase chain reaction tests, rapid tests can provide results in about 15 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the device. The federal Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel has recommended that rapid tests be used in long-term care homes and for screening to identify infections and help prevent outbreaks.

We created a new COVID-19 Resilience infrastructure funding stream that allows existing federal infrastructure funding be used to upgrade long-term care homes, making them more resilient to keep seniors safe.

Furthermore, the Government has coordinated a national recruitment campaign to create a pool of skilled volunteers to assist with case tracking and contact tracing, case data collection and reporting, and the health system’s surge capacity. Some of these volunteers are already working in long-term care facilities. The Government is working with the Canadian Red Cross to support the coordination and training of volunteers to help the health workforce. These volunteers will support epidemic prevention and control, basic care for long-term care residents and long-term care site administration.

To address acute labour shortages in long-term care and home care, we will support training 4,000 personal support worker interns through an accelerated online program and four-month work placement. Colleges and Institutes Canada will also begin a national dialogue on training standards. We also created a pathway to permanent residency for refugee claimants working in health care, including long-term care homes, during the pandemic.

Over the summer, the federal government finalized the Safe Restart Agreement with the provincial and territorial governments. The Agreement is investing over $19 billion in federal funding to help address the impacts of the pandemic and make Canada more resilient to possible future waves of the virus. This funding also supports infection prevention and control measures to protect those in long-term care and other vulnerable populations.

We are establishing a new $1 billion Safe Long-Term Care Fund to help the provinces and territories protect seniors in long-term care. It will support infection prevention, ventilation improvements and staffing.

The Canadian Foundation for Health Improvement’s LTC+ initiative allows long-term care facilities and seniors residences to learn from each other’s best practices. We are funding research to study the effectiveness of promising practices to protect long-term care homes from COVID-19, led by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

In 2017–2018, the federal government entered into a 10-year agreement with provincial and territorial governments to provide $6 billion to improve access to home and community care services, including palliative care. This investment is expected to help more Canadians receive the care services they need so they may remain at home longer. Details of the bilateral agreements and of how federal funding will be spent can be found on Health Canada’s website at www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/corporate/transparency/health-agreements/shared-health-priorities.html.

I can assure you that our government has considered the recommendations provided in your email.

I will also continue to work in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments and my federal counterparts to address pressing needs in long-term care facilities, explore measures that could increase their resilience and improve outcomes for seniors living in long-term and receiving home care.

I look forward to our continued dialogue on these important issues. Thank you for writing and sharing your concerns and opportunities for improvement.

 

Yours sincerely,

The Honourable Deb Schulte, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Seniors

 

c.c.      The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

 

The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier

Minister of National Revenue