The plight of Rural Social Scheme participants who have lost farming or fishing incomes due to Covid-19, and are left with €220 a week, was raised in the Dáil last week.
Cork South West Independent TD Michael Collins said many of these part-time farmers or fishermen are delivering meals on wheels services as part of their Rural Social Scheme work.
The scheme provides a supplementary income for low-income farmers and fishermen or women unable to earn an adequate living.
To qualify for the scheme, they must be getting a social welfare payment.
In return, people participating in the scheme provide services that benefit rural communities, working 19.5 hours per week, on a farmer or fisher-friendly schedule, whereby participation in the scheme does not affect farming or fishing activities.
“They are simply asking if their payment could be made up to the €350 [COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment],” said Mr Collins.
“They should be shown some respect in these difficult times.”
Clare Independent TD Michael McNamara, one of several TDs who raised this point, said: “Persons over 66 years of age who are self-employed or who run businesses are not entitled to the Covid-19 payment because they are in receipt of pensions.
“That is all well and good if one is trying to maintain oneself, but if one is trying to maintain a business and pay the overheads of a business, it gets difficult without any assistance.
“There is a large number of persons who are over 66 years and have a business.”
Referring to working people aged over 66, Mr Collins said: “They feel badly done by. They are not asking for €350 in Covid money, but are asking for the difference between their pension and the Covid payment to be given to them.
“The only relief many of those over 66 have got in the past few weeks, after adhering to strict stay-at-home guidelines, is a grant of up to €500 from the Irish Red Cross and Age Action Ireland, two great organisations.
“This was to help with the comfort of our elderly.”
He said applications for this grant were meant to be in by the end of August, but the application date was brought ahead to last week, leaving tens of thousands unable to apply on time.
“I ask the State to consider stepping in and helping the Irish Red Cross and Age Action Ireland on this issue.”
Age Action said response times were delayed, and the closing date for receipt of applications brought forward to Friday, April 24, due to the extent of enquiries and applications.
Age Action launched this Covid-19 Hardship Fund in conjunction with the Irish Red Cross, to respond to the immediate needs of older people in vulnerable situations across Ireland experiencing additional hardship as a result of the health crisis.
It is a once-off grant, up to a maximum of €500, per person or household, for those aged over 65, to cover additional costs of practical needs arising from Covid-19, such as higher heating costs, food delivery and storage costs, and technology.
Mr Collins said: “It is astonishing that many people over the age of 66, who have had to continue working to top up their pensions, and who are paying tax, are not entitled to the Covid-19 payment.
“Why are the people over the age of 66 who worked hard all their lives and continue to work hard beyond the retirement age being penalised by not being given a Covid-19 payment, or even the difference to make up the €350 payment?
“Our older people should not have to suffer any more than anyone else due to Covid-19.
“We are asking the Minister [Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe] to reconsider topping up the payment to the full Covid-19 payment of €350 for people aged over 66 and who have pensions but who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19, and those who are self-employed or sole traders.”
Mayo Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary said: “Those over the age of 66 who are not getting the pandemic payment are not looking for the full €350.
“They are people who were working up until the middle of March.
“They want their incomes to be brought up to the €350 and are willing and want to go back to work as soon as possible.”
Dublin North West TD Róisín Shortall, the Social Democrats leader, said: “The position on pandemic payments for those over 66 years is very unfair.
“There has been an appeal to the minister that he ensure that people who have been working and are over 66 years can have their State pension topped up to the level of the pandemic payment of €350. It is only fair.”