There might be relief on the horizon for some families struggling to make ends meet in certain Ontario cities this year. A new basic income program will offer financial aid (with no strings attached) to 4,000 families on, or below, the poverty line in three of the province’s cities: Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay.
This means that the recipients will get a government-issued income whether they’re working or not.
“We have chosen these communities intentionally because they are the right size and they have the right mix of population,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne during the public announcement this week.
The three-year program will offer eligible singles $17,000 and $24,000 to couples each year (minus half of any income earned). Plus, those with disabilities can receive up to $6,000 more.
Although the project will cost $50 million each year, it could be a life-changing experience for the people fortunate enough to participate, and potentially many more in the future if the program were to be replicated or expanded.
According to Chris Ballard, Ontario’s housing minister, the program is meant to provide Ontarians with a better quality of life.
“We’re looking at how we can give people the tools they need to get on with their life, to deal with health issues, to deal with education issues, to deal with employment issues, to get them up and out of poverty,” he said.
Deirdre Pike, the senior social planner at the Social Planning and Research Council in Hamilton, explained how basic income would make a difference to Hamilton’s citizens: “We have people in Hamilton, 7,000 of them, waking up today, they earn about $7,000 a year — I bet a lot of them will be applying to get $17,000 a year and see how that will change their lives.”
The government did run a similar program in Manitoba in the 1970s with some degree of success, and Ballard cites Ontario’s current political support as one of the reasons why they’re giving it another chance in Ontario. Ultimately, however, the goal is to see whether it sticks or not.
“At the end of the day, we want to be able to say ‘basic income works’ or ‘it doesn’t,'” Pike said.
On behalf of all Canadians struggling to keep their finances on track, we hope it does work.