Tuesday, 14 August, 2018

Ontario cancels its basic income pilot-leaving thousands scrambling

Ontario's Children Community and Social Services Minister Lisa Macleod attends Question Period at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday Ford government announces social assistance overhaul
Ray Hunter | 06 August, 2018, 07:25

Ontario's new Progressive Conservative government says it will bring in major changes to social assistance, starting with reducing a planned increase in support rates and cancelling a pilot program that provided payments to low-income people in certain communities.

MacLeod, who's a member of Ontario's new Progressive Conservative party, described the program as "quite expensive".

So when the provincial government announced earlier this week that it is working on a plan to reform social assistance so that it helps more people break the cycle of poverty, re-enter the workforce and get back on track, he became hopeful.

"The Liberals presided over a disjointed, patchwork system, with no interest at all in whether these programs delivered results", she said.

She said the review will be done within 100 days.

The government announced Tuesday it was "winding down" the project and cutting a planned three per cent increase in social assistance to 1.5% - the first steps in its plan to revamp the social assistance system.

Jody Dean, a Hamilton resident who participated in the program, said the financial stability granted by the project allowed her to go back to school part-time and to buy parking passes to the hospital where one of her three children receives care.

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Participants had not been notified and still haven't received any information about when their payments will end, four people enrolled in the program tell HuffPost Canada. Almost a million people use the two systems and someone on Ontario Works is now entitled to a maximum of $721 a month. "That's peanuts compared to what poverty costs the health system", she said.

The basic income pilot project was introduced in April 2017 and was tested in Hamilton, Brantford, Brant County, Lindsay and Thunder Bay and the surrounding area. Ms. MacLeod said she didn't yet have details on how or when the project would end.

That increase is down from the former government's scheduled increase of 3 per cent which was set for October. "It's possible there may even be an increase in demand for social assistance because of it".

"I live with a person with a disability day-to-day and I'm involved in it through advocacy and it's still hard for me to understand the varying life situations of people in Ontario", she said.

Some advocacy groups have also denounced the move, as have some who received support through social assistance or the basic income program.

Losing the program is going to make those plans more hard, she said.

That was reported as an admission of breaking the PC's campaign promise not to cancel the pilot. That's information any government concerned about vulnerable populations should value, Regehr said.

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