Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay 'getting very close' to filling basic income pilot quota, province says

Provincial officials aren't saying how many spaces are left for people to sign up for the basic income pilot project in Thunder Bay, Ont., but local proponents say there continues to be a lot of interest.

Deadline to apply is April 16

The province won't say how many spaces are left in Thunder Bay for people to sign up for the basic income pilot project, but says the city is "getting very close." (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Provincial officials aren't saying exactly how many spaces are left for people to sign up for the basic income pilot project in Thunder Bay, Ont., but local proponents say there continues to be a lot of interest.

The deadline for people to complete and submit their application to take part in the pilot is April 16. "We're getting very close to full sign-up in Thunder Bay," Peter Milczyn, the minister responsible for Ontario's poverty reduction strategy, told CBC News.

For people struggling to afford even basic necessities, the program can be very beneficial, said Sally Colquhoun, the legal services coordinator at Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic. The clinic, which specializes in poverty law issues, is part of a local network helping to get participants enrolled and answering questions prospective applicants have.

"It gives people an opportunity to live in a better place, have more money to pay rent, more money for healthy food," she said. "So it's very interesting for people who are living on a low income."

Colquhoun said single individuals who have already started receiving money through the pilot are getting just under $1,500 per month, or about double what the same person would get, on average, from social assistance. She added that the pilot also has fewer strings attached.

"They don't care ... who you're living with or what you're doing with your time," she continued. "So people are taking the opportunity to maybe go back to school or to ... be involved in other opportunities that they might not be able to do without that money."
Sally Colquhoun is the coordinator of legal services at the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

The basic income pilot was launched in 2017 in Thunder Bay, Hamilton and Lindsay. After a slow start, largely due to how people were being selected for the program, the province said more people have been signing up in the past several months.

The three-year pilot will see a maximum of 4,000 people in the designated areas receive a basic income. Another 2,000 won't receive that money, but will be compensated for completing a number of surveys from which information will be used for research purposes.

As of March, officials said over 4,000 people have signed up out of the 6,000 capacity, province-wide. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing said he couldn't provide more localized enrolment numbers. Thunder Bay has a maximum quota of about 2,000 — split between people receiving the basic income and those in the comparison group — the ministry said.
Peter Milczyn is the minister responsible for the basic income pilot project.

"A very important part of this whole pilot is the research part of it," said Milczyn. "So we understand how they're doing with receiving the basic income amount, how are things changing for them, how are they staying the same."

"We're starting to gather that information, that is the crucial part of this because that's going to help us decide how to design programs in the future after the pilot study is finished."

Colquhoun said any future programs need to, at their core, provide more.

"[Social assistance] includes a maximum shelter amount of less than $400 a month," she said. "I mean you can't even get a room in a rooming house in Thunder Bay or anywhere in Ontario for that little."

The pilot project is still holding in-person enrolment sessions in the three designated communities.

With files from Kelly Bennett