(The following is a slightly revised version of a story that originally appeared at http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca)
The Basic Income Pilot Project is up and running in Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County and Thunder Bay. It will soon start up in Lindsay. https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-basic-income-pilot
The anticipated four thousand participants who will be directly impacted by receiving a basic income is a drop in the bucket of the entire Ontario population.
So, those in the rest of Ontario can be forgiven if they aren’t paying attention right now. But this three year pilot project could have major implications for social policy development in the province. We all need to pay attention.
Yesterday, the province held a media event to update the public on how the program is going so far. It is off to a slow start as you can see from this report from CBC http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/basic-income-cheques-going-to-400-households-as-project-gets-off-to-slow-start-1.4329212
What is more concerning though is that rules and regulations are not set in many areas.
One area that they haven’t figured out yet is the issue of recipients being subjected to garnishments. They had no answers at the October 3rd media event. (Here is the news release for the event https://news.ontario.ca/mcss/en/2017/10/ontario-basic-income-pilot-helping-provide-more-security-and-opportunity.html)
Questions to the Premier
Later in the day when pressed on it during question period Premier Wynne, had no answers either.
Hamilton MPP Paul Miller wanted the Premier to commit to resolving the garnishment issue. Miller referenced a position taken by the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR) earlier in the day.
The HRPR will not be making any further referrals to the basic income application sessions until they clarify whether basic income is subject to garnishment.
“We’ve become concerned that unlike OW or ODSP, participants in the basic income pilot could have their incomes garnished from creditors. This is particularly concerning for OW or ODSP recipients who may owe money to landlords, payday loan companies or other collection agencies, said Tom Cooper the Roundtable Director
Perhaps a bigger question posed by Miller was as a follow up. What about the larger issue of social assistance reform, and why the province is stalling on Bill 6, An Act to amend the Ministry of Community and Social Services Act to establish the Social Assistance Research Commission?
No answer to that one either.
What these answers are to the day to day operations of the Basic Income Pilot matter a lot to potential participants.
And these answers will matter eventually matter to all of Ontario. So will the bigger picture policy question MPP Miller posed about delays in establishing a much needed Social Assistance Research Commission.
You can read Miller’s questions and the Premier’s response below.
Mr. Paul Miller: My question is to the Premier. This morning, the Liberal government announced that only 400 people have so far signed up for its Basic Income Pilot Project in Thunder Bay, Brantford and Hamilton. New Democrats have raised concerns that the amounts received are not adequate for the
participants and could keep them struggling in poverty if the basic income is subject to garnishments and debt collections.
Well, surprise, surprise: Now we’ve learned that anyone who signs up for the basic income project may be subject to garnishments and debt collections on that income. This is according to the coordinator of the Basic Income Pilot Project.
This is unacceptable. Regular recipients of ODSP and OW are not subject to these additional garnishments and collections, but it seems those on basic income will be. It has even gotten so bad that poverty advocates in my hometown of Hamilton are warning people not to join the project.
Many Ontarians struggle under household debt, but for people in poverty debt this can be a crushing, endless loop. Will the Premier confirm that basic income is subject to creditor liens on that income? Will she commit to making the necessary changes to ensure that this isn’t the case?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I appreciate the question from the member opposite. My understanding—I have asked about this, and the responses I’ve received from staff are that there are not many hundreds more but, in fact, thousands more people who are in the pipeline to be processed and to be part of the pilot.
Are there questions about the rules around the pilot? Are there adjustments that will likely have to be made? Yes, Mr. Speaker. It is a pilot project. This has not been done for decades. It has been talked about for 30 or 35 years, but until now, until our Liberal government, no government has taken it upon themselves to actually put a pilot in place to find out whether this is something that can help people. We’re doing that, and we are working very hard with the researchers to get it right.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?
Mr. Paul Miller: Well, poverty is affecting people right now, Premier; however, it will be years before Ontario makes a final decision on whether to turn the pilot project into a broad policy.
This is the reality, Mr. Speaker: Poverty is affecting Ontarians now. And we have a solution. Bill 6, the Ministry of Community and Social Services Amendment Act, could actively help reduce poverty immediately. By creating a Social Assistance Research Commission, annual recommendations can be made to determine what the social assistance rates need to be in each region of this province. Moving Bill 6 forward will give the province the ability to experiment with this minimum-income project.
So my question is, Speaker, why has this government stalled Bill 6 in committee?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: As I said, the Basic Income Pilot is one part of a response to poverty reduction in Ontario. It’s an important pilot project, and we’re working very hard to get it right. The Minister of Community and Social Services is also engaged in reform of the social assistance program.
But, on top of that, we recognize that people need support. So free tuition for over 200,000 students in this province, an increased minimum wage to $15 an hour, free medication for children from zero until their 25th birthday: Those are all supports that are being put in place to tackle poverty across the province. There’s always more that we can do. The Basic Income Pilot is part of that.