Poverty minister hopes basic income pilot will transform lives

Jasmine Bellwood is a young Lindsay mother with a part-time job and full-time worries. Her worries are mainly about providing for her 15-month-old son.

She’s also anxious about doing this brief interview but then relents when she is allowed  to change her name.

Bellwood (not her real name) is about to go inside Celebrations in Lindsay to apply for basic income, one of the first open enrollment sessions the Province is holding, while her boyfriend, the boy’s father, takes care of their son.

“I worry that we won’t have enough for him,” she says. “It’s hard right now, with what we’re making.”

Jasmine and her boyfriend both work, but only part-time and both are in the service industry, where wages are not high. He’s looking for something full-time whereas she doesn’t want to work any more than she’s doing, which is about 20-25 hours a week.

“I want to be able to spend a little time with my son right now. That’s why I was wondering if this program could help,” she says, believing it will give her a bit more peace of mind.

The program – the Ontario Basic Income Pilot – is something that is gaining worldwide attention. There are only a handful of nations doing basic income experiments right now. Ontario is conducting its pilot in Lindsay, Thunder Bay, and Hamilton/Brant County. But out of the 4,000 people taking part, half will be from Lindsay even though it’s the smallest, making it key to the pilot. That’s because the government wants to see if there will be community-level effects, too.

On this day, Minister of Poverty Reduction and Housing, Peter Milczyn, is in Lindsay to chat with people are who looking to sign up.

It’s a show of support by the minister who is pleased the word is getting out here.

“People are very enthusiastic,” Milczyn says. “It’s great to have a host community that is really engaged.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, that engagement stems from a community in need. Lindsay has lost much of its industrial base and some employers have indicated that they need to find people with more skills. As with many other Canadian centres, the majority of jobs that are being created now tend to be part-time, contract, or temporary in nature, often lacking benefits.

So, far the poverty reduction minister says they have signed up 793 applicants to the program, as of Nov. 24, but that number is expected to rise quickly with open enrollment sessions happening frequently in all three centres between now and February.

In order to participate in the pilot, individuals must be:

  • 18 to 64 years old (for the entire duration of the three-year study)
  • living in one of the selected test regions (like Lindsay) for the past 12 months or longer (and still live there)
  • living on a low income (under $34,000 per year if you’re single or under $48,000 per year if you’re a couple)

Milczyn says if there is one thing he wants to communicate very clearly it’s that the basic income pilot is “designed to assist people who find themselves with a low income for any reason.”

“That could be because their job doesn’t pay enough, or maybe they’re on Ontario Works or disability,” he says.

He says with basic income acting as an income floor, people may choose to go back to school, look for better work, or maybe they’re frustrated on income assistance because so much money gets clawed back.

“They see this as a new opportunity,” the poverty reduction minister says.

When it comes right down to it, the minister says the pilot is all about providing an income “that will assist and stabilize people.”

“We’re hoping it will transform lives.”

Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot will be the largest study of its kind in North America. British Columbia is considering conducting its own pilot and has been in touch with Ontario officials to study their model.

To easily sign up for an open enrollment session, follow the steps here to pick the best available date.

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