211 Ontario helps seniors access financial assistance and home support services
Over 80,000 people called 211 Ontario last year to investigate financial and income assistance. As well, many calls were from seniors and caregivers wanting to discover what practical help like home support was available, how to access it, and how to afford it. Calling 2-1-1 is one of the best ways to learn about the home support programs and financial help that can help you stay in your own home safely and improve your quality of life.
No matter your age, having a stable income is paramount to feeling secure. If you're a senior, accessing at least part of that income means dealing with a government office, which can be frustrating, especially if you have a language barrier or difficulty hearing. The long menu of automated choices may also be confusing, points out social worker Nancy Singer who facilitates the Wrap Around Project at Waterloo Region Community Legal Services.
The Old Age Security (OAS) program, which provides most Canadians over 65 with a modest pension, is at the top of the list of financial support for seniors. In addition, the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) gives extra income to low-income seniors receiving OAS. Partners of GIS recipients can apply for the GIS-Allowance (widows can apply for the Allowance for the Survivor) if they are aged 60 to 64. In addition, the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) is a top-up for low-income Ontario residents age 65 or older who receive GIS.
Singer notes that some seniors do not receive their full entitlement of retirement benefits because they do not answer "yes" to Section 11 on the OAS application form, which asks if you want to apply for the GIS, an additional benefit that can increase your income significantly. (In July, 2014, the maximum GIS amount was $757.58, compared to the maximum OAS amount of $558.71). "This increased income can mean stable housing, improved nutrition, and greater quality of life and health for low-income senior citizens," says Singer.
Another possible form of financial support if you have worked outside the home is the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) retirement pension. You need to be at least 65 to get the full pension, although you can take a reduced CPP retirement pension when you turn 60. CPP also provides survivors benefits to partners of deceased contributors.
If you have lived or worked in another country, you may be eligible for benefits from abroad.
Veterans of war are also eligible for a War Veterans Allowance, monthly financial assistance based on income, marital status and number of dependants, if any.
In order to receive most government assistance, it’s important that you have filed your taxes. (Low-income adults of any age can get help filing taxes through free community volunteer income tax clinics, some of which run all year). As well, you might be eligible for a number of tax refunds that could put cash into your hands. For instance, the Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST) credit is a quarterly payment that helps offset all or part of the GST or HST that low-income persons pay. There's also the Ontario Trillium Benefit (OTB), a (mostly) monthly payment that combines the Ontario Sales Tax Credit, Ontario Energy and Property Tax Credit and Northern Ontario Energy Credit.
As well, if you're 64 or older and own your home, under the Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit you can claim up to $10,000 worth of eligible home improvements (e.g., installing a hand-held shower or grab bar) to help make your home safer and more accessible. Ontario also offers the Provincial Land Tax Deferral Program for Low Income or Those With Disability, a partial deferral of provincial land tax and education tax for GIS recipients. Finally, the Federal Excise Gasoline Refund Program refunds a portion of the federal excise tax on gasoline bought for use by people with a mobility impairment who cannot use public transportation.
Community legal clinics, which offer services to all low-income seniors, can help if you are having difficulty applying for a tax refund or receiving your pension or you need help preparing a will or a power of attorney form. Some Ontario cities also have Wills on Wheels, a directory of independent lawyers who offer in-home will and power of attorney preparation services. To find out about other legal options for low-income Ontarians, check out the Community Legal Education Ontario website or call 2-1-1 for a referral.
When it comes to health, most of the cost for approved drug prescriptions is covered under the Ontario Drug Benefits (ODB) program if you are 65 or older. (You can apply to have the deductible waived and co-payment reduced to $2 per prescription). A wide array of health care benefits, including prescription drugs, dental care and prosthetic devices, are also provided to war vets. The War Veterans Allowance also covers medically related travel costs.
If you have a long-term physical disability you can apply to the Assistive Devices Program (ADP) for financial support (usually up to 75 per cent of the approved price) for equipment or supplies ranging from home oxygen to wheelchairs to hearing aids. In addition, Seniors In Need can connect low-income seniors to donors who can help out with assistive devices. (This program can, in fact, help out with a range of non-health care items such as groceries). As well, a number of programs can help offset some of the associated costs of diabetes, and the Kidney Foundation may offer short-term and emergency financial assistance to cover medical expenses associated with treating kidney disease.
Although the Ontario government does not fund any optical programs, Give the Gift of Sight does provide free vision care and eyewear to low-income persons. (You must be referred from a local community organization). There is also no specific provincial dental program for seniors, although some community health clinics offer free care and some dental hygiene schools as well as offer reduced prices in their student clinics. Call 2-1-1 to find out what is available in your area.
For health care or personal support in your home, the first step is to contact a Community Care Access Centre (CCAC). Call 2-1-1 to find your local CCAC. CCAC staff will coordinate in-home services such as nursing, personal support, physiotherapy, or medical supplies and equipment. CCACs can also refer you to additional support services such as:
- Caregiver relief
- Friendly visiting
- Home maintenance and repair services
Long-Term Care and Housing
A CCAC case manager can also help you apply for admission to a long-term care home should you need 24-hour nursing care and/or help with daily activities. CCACs can also help if you are recovering from illness or injury and need the short-stay services (90 days or less) offered by long-term care homes. Speak with a CCAC if you need a rate reduction on the costs of long-term care. (While all long-term care residents do not have to pay for nursing and personal care services, they must pay accommodation costs).
Additionally, CCAC case managers can provide information about retirement homes and seniors’ apartments as well as supportive housing for seniors (designated residential buildings that provide on-site personal support).
You should also know about a few other housing-related programs. For instance, the Home and Vehicle Modification Program provides up to $15,000 of funding for basic home and/or vehicle modifications for people with mobility restrictions. The Ontario Renovates Program offers limited funding to low-income seniors (and persons with disabilities) who own their home and need home repairs and accessibility modifications. This program is administered by local municipalities, such as the City of Ottawa. Finally, the Investment in Affordable Housing for Ontario program provides funding to build and repair affordable housing and for rental and down payment assistance to households in need. To access funding, contact your local municipality or District Social Service Administration Board, also known as the Service Manager.
The Ontario Energy Board's Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) provides low-income customers up to $500 in emergency financial assistance to pay their gas or electricity bills ($600 if their home is heated electrically). Low-income Enbridge customers can apply for the Home Winterproofing Program. Enbridge also offers the Community Energy Conservation Program in some parts of Ontario, which brings with it incentives of up to $2,000 to qualified homeowners. Also, some communities offer saveonenergy Home Assistance program, which provides the free installation of energy-saving light bulbs, power bars, low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators. You may also be eligible for a new energy-efficient refrigerator or air conditioner. And, if you have a fridge or freezer that’s 15 years or older, the Ontario Power Authority will haul it out of your home and recycle it in an environmentally-friendly way.
If you can't shop for your own food or cook, rest assured that Meals on Wheels volunteers will not only deliver nutritious and affordable meals but they will stay for a little chat and check on your health and safety. If you can get around a little more easily, you can access free or low-cost meal programs in your community as well as food banks, food vouchers and emergency food hampers. Some municipalities, such as Toronto, operate Good Food Box programs, which deliver boxes of affordable, fresh produce to pick up locations on a regular basis. Call 2-1-1 to find out what food or meal programs are available near you.
Social, Recreation and Education Programs
Studies show that keeping active and engaged with the community when you are a senior can help maintain physical and mental health. Many community centres offer social and recreation programs, such as crafts, discussion groups, speakers, interactive music programs and films. Another way to keep activated and socially stimulated is through volunteering. Local Parks and Recreation Departments also offer a variety of low-cost rec options, everything from line dancing to Indian cooking to making jewellery. (Check to see if your local department offers discounts to seniors). Public libraries aren't just about books, they're also about free Internet and computer access and training as well as workshops on a range of topics. You can also check the adult education offerings of your local school board, which may offer seniors a reduced rate for night school courses. As well, some boards may offer special day programs geared to seniors. Call 2-1-1 for a full range of education and recreation options in your community.
Help With Pet Costs
Dogs or cats are essential to the wellbeing of many seniors, but paying for their expenses can be worrisome if money is tight, especially if the little ones fall ill. If you don't have enough money to pay vet bills, you might be eligible for help from the Farley Foundation.
Programs and services available vary by community, and can change from season to season. Call 211 to get up-to-date information 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.