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EDITORIAL: When benefits become burdens

It seems as if the federal government is using the term “benefit” a bit loosely these days, or perhaps it just doesn’t know what the term means.

Tuesday, The Western Star featured a story about Grace Mischaude, who received a $2,500 death benefit from Service Canada after her husband’s death last year. The Corner Brook senior used the money to help cover funeral expenses.

Back in July, however, Mischaude was informed that because she received this death benefit as income last year, the income supplement she receives as a senior will be reduced — her cheque was $300 less for July and August, and will $200 less from September to June of 2016.

The net result? Mischaude will receive $2,600 less through her supplement than she would have over this time period.

What’s galling about the situation isn’t so much that this clawback exists, but how the government informs recipients — and we use that term loosely — about it.

A quick search of Service Canada’s website does uncover the information, but it’s not found on the information page about receiving death benefits. Rather, you’d have to navigate to the fact sheet on Guaranteed Income Supplements to discover the phrase: “You must contact us if one of the following situations occurs, since it might change the amount of your GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement) payment: You marry or separate, or your spouse or common-law partner dies.”

Imagine your spouse or common-law partner has indeed just died. Would your first instinct be to contact Service Canada to inquire about the death benefit you’ve just received and its potential impact on your future income?

We found this caveat to the so-called benefit through some simple online searching, yes, but keep in mind who’s receiving these benefits and supplements. Some seniors are becoming increasingly computer-literate, but they’re likely the minority. And it’s even less likely that they’ll be scouring a website or taking a magnifying glass to the fine print after their husband, wife or partner has just passed on.

Regardless of how readily available Service Canada will say this information is, it’s disingenuous to say seniors are getting full disclosure on these death benefits before the feds come back and pickpocket them for it. To do it so close on the heels of such a grief-filled time? That warrants another expression entirely.

No, this is certainly not a benefit. It’s a blindside.

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