Seniors’ Benefits Decreased in the Alberta Budget
Like most budgets by the provincial and federal conservative governments, this new budget decreases benefits for lower income individuals. The story we are then told is that we Albertans can no longer afford to sustain programs like Alberta Seniors Benefit (ASB) for low income seniors. Thus, the education tax rebate, part of ABS, is to be phased out. This is one of the many changes made to this program.
Some aspects of ABS haven’t changed. If you are a single senior and your income is around $25,000, or as a couple and your income is around $41,000, you could be eligible for benefits under this program. For these low income seniors the ASB program provides additional income and pays for other expenses such as home maintenance.
ASB also provides an income top up. For those who are not eligible for CPP or whose CPP is very low, in combination with Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), ASB raises the minimum income for seniors up to $20,700 as a single or $32,600 for a couple. GIS is a federal program for low income seniors and can be applied for at the same time as Old Age Security. The federal government is very good about advising seniors about their programs. The provincial government, on the other hand, does not. Therefore, seniors have to find the ASB program on their own.
What has changed is that some sources of income that were previously not counted in calculating ABS will now be used. This has resulted in an estimated 6000 low income senior Albertans being kicked out of the program. Also, unless you have lived in Canada for 10 years, you will no longer be eligible.
More changes are coming to aspects of the program but don’t let that stop you from receiving the benefits which are now available.
In addition to direct income, ASB provides a lot of other benefits and these are available to low income seniors who may not get an actual direct payment, but whose income is below $25,000 as a single person or as a couple and $41,000. These additional benefits must be applied for individually and include such things as cleaning, home repairs, and appliances (stove, washing machines, etc). Home repairs include roofs, doors, and more. A special note here: the recently released provincial budget included some changes to these additional benefits. The impact is not yet fully clear.
Finally, drug costs in excess of $45/month are reimbursed by ASB. These are reimbursed retroactively, upon submission of these drug costs to ASB. When asked, pharmacies will provide a printout of the drug costs for the year.
Applications are available at www.seniors.gov.ab.ca or phone ASB at (780) 644-9992. Applications need to be made only once. In subsequent years, the provincial government obtains tax information from the federal tax department and automatically establishes ongoing eligibility. Eligibility is from July 1 of each year to June 30 (to match the timing of the tax information) which means this year’s benefits (2013 to 2014) are based on last year’s income (2012). There is also a provision for income estimation if a senior’s income suddenly decreases because they have stopped working or moved from AISH to Old Age Security and GIS.
The ASB office always advises seniors to apply even if there is some doubt about eligibility. So if you are a senior with the income levels discussed here and are not receiving ASB, phone and apply. More changes are coming to aspects of the program but don’t let that stop you from receiving the benefits which are now available.