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'My life has changed so much': One woman's experience with Ontario's basic income program

A Thunder Bay, Ont. woman says her life has changed for the better, since she was selected to be part of the province's basic income pilot project.

Sherry Mendowegan plans to go to college in the fall; something she says she previously couldn't afford to do

Sherry Mendowegan said her family is proud to own a car, something they couldn't afford before she and her partner qualified for Ontario's basic income program. (Amy Hadley/CBC)
A car, a college education and recreational activities for her kids. All things that one Thunder Bay woman says were out of her reach a year ago ...Then Sherry Mendowegan qualified for the basic income program. 8:03

Sherry Mendowegan says these days, "life is good." 

The 41-year-old mother of two, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ont., can't stop smiling as she describes the ways in which her life is different, since she was selected to be part of Ontario's basic income pilot project. 

"My life has changed so much," she said, explaining that her family can now afford a car, and that she and her partner now have enough money to take their children out to enjoy recreational activities. 

What's more, Mendowegan, who recently earned her Grade 12 diploma, plans to attend college this fall. It's something that would have seemed impossible a year ago.

"I would have said I don't think I can afford it," she said. "Now I probably can, and I'm looking forward to [attending] college."

Living cheque-to-cheque

A year ago, Mendowegan said her family was relying on Ontario Works and struggling daily to make ends meet.

"It was horrible," she said, adding that after paying rent, "there was no extra money ... to get other necessities that would help my family; to live day-to-day."

While on Ontario Works, income from other sources would also result in deductions, and she was required to report everything.

"My mom would send me $40 or $20, and I'd have to report that," she said, adding that the basic income program does not have any such requirements. 

The deductions to Ontario Works would have been a major barrier to going back to school, she said, because although she would be eligible for funding for her tuition, it would have resulted in cuts to her social assistance payments. 

Mendowegan said now that things have changed, she hopes to study office administration at Confederation College. 

She said she wants to show her children the importance of education.  

Close to 4,000 people are enrolled in the basic income pilot program in Thunder Bay, Lindsay, Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County.