Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I am very pleased to join you today and to appear before this committee for the first time.
We know that seniors are at increased risk of more severe outcomes from COVID-19 and are negatively impacted by the pandemic. They need our help and our support. As Minister of Seniors and member of the ad hoc committee on COVID-19, I am committed to ensure that seniors’ needs across Canada are carefully considered and addressed. Since the pandemic was declared, I have been in contact with my provincial and territorial counterparts. I have heard from many stakeholders, as well as the National Seniors Council. What I am hearing is informing the Government of Canada’s response to the pandemic.
To protect seniors' financial security during these uncertain times, the government has introduced the following measures. First, we are providing a one-time, tax-free payment of $300 for seniors eligible for old age security, and an additional $200 for seniors eligible for the guaranteed income supplement. This means that low-income seniors who are eligible to receive both old age security and the guaranteed income supplement will receive $500 to help them cover increased costs caused by COVID-19. A couple where both are receiving the GIS special payment and the GST credit special payment could receive, on average, a total of over $1,500 to help them cope with the pandemic.
In April, both low- and middle-income seniors received a supplementary payment under the GST credit worth an average of $375 for singles and an average of $510 for couples. We are reducing the minimum withdrawals from the registered retirement income funds by 25% for 2020. We have also adopted measures to ensure that guaranteed income supplement payments continue without interruption if a senior's 2019 income information has not been received. In addition, the government created the Canada emergency response benefit, CERB, to help all Canadians, including working seniors, with financial hardship as a result of the loss of employment income due to COVID-19. Pension benefits do not affect eligibility.
I want to address the situation in long-term care homes. As you know, seniors living in these facilities are the hardest hit in this pandemic. While long-term care is regulated by provincial and territorial governments, the federal government is working together, in a team Canada approach, to help residents and staff stay safe. We released interim guidelines for long-term care homes to prevent and control COVID-19 infections. We invested $2 billion to purchase personal protective equipment for essential health workers, including long-term care workers. We provided $3 billion to provinces and territories to increase the wages of low-income essential workers, such as long-term care workers. We deployed personnel from the Canadian Armed Forces to 25 long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario—20 in Quebec and five in Ontario. As the Prime Minister said, there are serious underlying challenges facing these facilities, and in the coming months the federal government will work alongside the provinces and territories to find lasting solutions.
Finally, the government is providing funding to support vulnerable Canadians, including seniors, with over half a billion dollars in funding to United Way Centraide Canada, the Canadian Red Cross, Community Foundations of Canada, local food banks and local food organizations. We are providing flexibility for $50 million of previously funded new horizons for seniors projects so that they can now use their funds to meet the needs seniors are facing due to COVID-19. We also announced an additional investment of $20 million in community projects that reduce isolation, improve seniors’ quality of life, and help them maintain the social support networks they so desperately need.
Thank you for the opportunity to present what the government has done to protect seniors during this difficult time.
To the chair and the committee, I want to give you a personal shout-out and thanks for the excellent work you're doing.
I'd be pleased to answer any questions.