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Seniors Minister Deb Schulte, seen in a Nov. 20, 2019, file photo, said this measure will mean seniors will be given a total of $500 for individuals eligible to receive both the Old Age Security pension and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A one-time tax-free payment of $300 will be given to seniors eligible for the Old Age Security pension and an additional $200 will be given to those eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement, Seniors Minister Deb Schulte said Tuesday.

​Ms. Schulte said the measures will help seniors cover increased costs incurred because of COVID-19.

Old Age Security is a federal program that provides monthly income to seniors. The amounts vary based on whether an individual is single and the benefit is fully phased out for seniors who earn more than $128,137.

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The GIS is a supplement to the OAS and is aimed at low-income seniors.

Ms. Schulte also said Tuesday that there would be an expansion of the New Horizons for Seniors program with an investment of $20-million to help organizations offering community-based projects designed to reduce isolation and improve quality of life for seniors.​​

Last month, the federal government earmarked $1.3-billion in a one-time special payment through the goods and services tax credit. Ottawa said four million seniors benefited from the top-up, adding that it provided an average of $375 for single seniors and $510 for senior couples.

In a statement on Tuesday, the organization CARP, which advocates for improved health care and financial security for aging Canadians, welcomed the federal government’s latest announcement but urged Ottawa to do more to support what it called the retirement security crisis caused by COVID-19.

CARP’s chief policy officer, Marissa Lennox, said seniors are looking to have as many tools as possible to maximize their cash flow and protect their retirement.

“Seniors have been impacted by an increase in the cost of living,” Ms. Lennox said in a statement.

"Many low-income seniors depend on a variety of community-support services, including food banks and volunteer tax-preparation programs, many of which have closed their doors due to the virus. It’s unclear how long this will last.”

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Conservative seniors critic Alice Wong said Tuesday that the Liberals have been late to help Canadian seniors, adding that her party has heard Canadians are looking for penalty-free access to their savings during this crisis.

Conservatives have put forward proposals to help, including allowing Canadians to make a special one-time tax-free withdrawal from their registered retirement savings plan and waiving mandatory withdrawal from their registered retirement income fund, she added.

NDP seniors critic Scott Duvall said his party is largely disappointed with Tuesday’s announcement.

“Providing a one-time payment indicates the government has decided the pandemic will only last for a month,” Mr. Duvall said. “How are seniors going to meet their increased costs in the following months?”

The government should help seniors with a continuing increase in their OAS and GIS, Mr. Duvall added.

In the 2019 election platform, the Liberals promised to increase OAS benefits by 10 per cent for seniors aged 75 and up.

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The platform also promised to increase the survivor’s benefit for seniors through the Canada Pension Plan.​​

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that there is no question COVID-19 has taken its toll on seniors emotionally and financially, adding that the government is taking steps to alleviate some of those stresses.

But he conceded that COVID-19 has exposed “some uncomfortable truths" about our society, including how we care for seniors in Canada.

“We’ve seen heartbreaking tragedies in long-term care facilities and nursing homes right across the country. Overworked staff. Understaffed residences. Grieving families.”

There are serious underlying challenges facing these facilities, he added, noting that Ottawa plans to support provinces in the coming months to develop solutions.

Ms. Schulte said Tuesday that issues that have become very apparent through this crisis will require examination, adding that her mother is in a long-term care facility and her in-laws are in a seniors residence.

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“I am really feeling the same stresses that Canadians have for their loved ones in these facilities."

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