A Calgary man who just celebrated his 65th birthday last month says the government has cut off the lifeline for the financial support he desperately needs.

65-year-old George Romas has suffered a kidney failure, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as well as a myriad of other health issues.

“I have chronic back pain; I have sleep apnea, I only sleep a half an hour here and a half an hour there every day. I have stomach issues, swelling issues and many more.”

His medical conditions require him to remain on dialysis and oxygen 24 hours a day.

While he struggles with his day-to-day tasks, he says he’s been able to make it through because of the province’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program, something that’s supported him for the past 15 years.

“Last year I was getting $1,588 a month for just regular AISH. With my special needs, I got $110 for a special diet that I had to get a doctor’s note for. Because of my disabilities, I have to take special transportation and the government was paying $550 [for that].”

However, Romas says when he turned 65 last month, the government’s rules changed and he was forced onto another program, one that he says doesn’t give him enough to survive.

Under the Seniors Benefit Program, Romas loses the special diet allowance and the medical transportation subsidy. He also says his rental costs have doubled.

“The government doesn’t realize the harm they’re doing here,” Romas says. “For the government to throw you away from AISH because you turn 65, and they say your rent is going to double and you’re not going to get your special diets anymore and you’re not going to get your medical transportation anymore, they’re so cold hearted.”

Romas says he’s gone to the province and they’ve told him that they are simply “swamped” with people who are asking for more funding to support themselves and advised him to look elsewhere for support.

“Why is the government doing that, taking away their responsibility?”

Luanne Whitmarsh, CEO of the Kerby Centre, an organization dedicated to helping Calgary seniors, says there is a difficult transition for many people in Romas' position.

“Because you’re moving from one system to a different system, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is completely changing, but I think it’s important to say that change is difficult.”

She says that the Seniors Benefit Program isn’t all bad.

“If you’re qualified for all your levels of funding, you actually end up with more money in your bank but you sort of have to buy your services yourself in a different way.”

For example, Whitmarch says people in the Seniors Benefit Program get more money for medication, but they need to make a co-pay for their prescriptions.

Nevertheless, she admits that the program isn’t equitable at the same time.

Whitmarsh says she’s heard Romas' story time and again from other people who come through the centre and her organization offers whatever help it can.

“What we do here at the Kerby Centre is we work with the AISH department so people know six to nine months ahead of time about what forms to fill out and how to access their pensions. But it’s complicated; it’s a government process.”

When CTV reached out to the province about the issue, they responded with a statement:

Once AISH clients turn 65, their primary source of income will be federal financial programs. Our government tops up those financial programs through various seniors benefits, which have recently increased with the implementation of An Act to Combat Poverty and Fight for Albertans with Disabilities. While numerous financial supports exist provincially for health, housing and living costs, certainly navigating several systems can be challenging. We have heard from seniors and we know that there is more work to do. We continue to work as a government to identify gaps in financial and supplemental benefits and develop policy for improving the transition for AISH clients. Our government is committed to continuing to fight for Albertan seniors with disabilities and Albertan seniors living on low income. For assistance navigating the benefits systems, we encourage Albertans to call the Alberta Supports Contact Centre at 1-877-644-9992.

(With files from Kathy Le)