Want no-strings-attached money from the government? Basic income session Wednesday

For its next phase to attract applicants, the province this week will start holding sessions that allow would-be recipients to apply and ask questions in person. The first one is in Hamilton on Wednesday.

The first session is Wednesday at the Hamilton Public Library central branch

Residents in the communities chosen to pilot Ontario's basic income program, including Hamilton, no longer have to receive one of these packages in the mail, in order to apply. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Just 800 people in Ontario, including in Hamilton and Brantford, have begun receiving monthly deposits from the government as part of a basic income pilot project.

It's been a slow start. But on Wednesday in Hamilton, the province is holding the first of a new series of in-person sessions to help people figure out if they qualify and how to apply.

That balance is a lot harder than people think.- Nusrat Mir, 19, on balancing full-time studies with work

Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the pilot in April and the province has less than one-quarter of the recipients for the pilot project signed up so far.

'I've been cutting corners for three years now'

Nusrat Mir is one local basic income recipient. The 19-year-old is in her third year at McMaster University studying sociology and labour studies.

Nusrat Mir, 19, is one of the recipients of the Ontario basic income pilot project. (Nusrat Mir)
She said the benefit – which for her is a deposit of $1,384 a month – is already giving her room to breathe.

"I've been cutting corners for three years now. It's been a way of life," she said. "Now it's totally different."

The province hopes more people will join Mir and see how basic income feels.

In-person sessions will also be held starting this week in Lindsay, Ont., Brantford and Thunder Bay – the other locations for the pilot.

A 'phased approach'

The province is experimenting with the idea of giving people an amount of money each month without the strings attached that typically accompany government assistance.

The province mailed out applications to "random" households beginning in June, but only heard back from a small fraction.

Now they're holding the in-person sessions in December and in to 2018 to help bring their numbers up to the targeted 4,000 participants in the project. (One thousand of those are expected to be from Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County.)

The province says this is all part of a "phased approach."

Local anti-poverty advocate Tom Cooper has been one of the program's loudest skeptics, but said this week the move to the in-person sessions gives applicants a "better understanding of the benefits and drawbacks" of participating.

"I am feeling a lot more confident with the direction of the pilot these days," he said.

'It's such a new concept for people'

Peter Milczyn is Ontario's housing minister, and the minister responsible for the poverty reduction strategy. (Twitter)

In October, Peter Milczyn, the minister responsible for the province's poverty reduction strategy, said it wasn't surprising organizers would need to make "adjustments" as the project unfolded.

"It's such a new concept for many people especially people who were used to [other government assistance programs] or people who actually work and are employed and simply have a low income," he said. "We do not want anybody to be worse off than they were before."

'That balance is a lot harder than people think'

Mir works part-time on campus – 15 hours a week at $12 an hour, down from 30 hours a week she was working to save up during the summer. She pays about $550 in rent per month. She rarely had enough money left over to go out to eat with friends or family.

She and her family moved to Canada from Bangladesh when she was 7. She said stories like hers will be an important one for researchers as the province evaluates the success of such a program.

"When you're a student, studying itself is a proper job, and on top of that we're expected to do at least part-time (work)," she said. "If you figure out doing full-time work, that would be the best but you'd have to go part-time with classes. That balance is a lot harder than people think."

For more information

Because of the idea's newness, the province isn't able to protect recipients from wage garnishment from creditors, according to a statement from the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

The ministry emphasizes it will walk applicants through an "informed consent" process that allows them to see what pros and cons they might be facing. And if they decide they want to quit receiving the basic income, they can.

Potential participants must be:

  • Between 18 and 64 years old.
  • Living in one of the pilot project regions for the last 12 months.
  • Living on a low income (less than $34,000 for a single person and $48,000 for a couple).

The Hamilton session Wednesday runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the central library; more information on that and future sessions is available on the province's website.


Kelly Bennett is a freelance reporter based in Hamilton. Her writing has appeared in CBC News, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, Voice of San Diego and in the National Observer for the Local Journalism Initiative. You can follow her on Twitter @kellyrbennett or email kelly@kellyrbennett.com.