Giv­ing away free money a cu­ri­ously tough job

Prov­ince strug­gling to find el­i­gi­ble par­tic­i­pants for its ba­sic in­come pi­lot project


Money for noth­ing?

Of­fer­ing up to $1,400 a month with no strings at­tached to some­one liv­ing in poverty may sound easy, says Kwame McKen­zie, spe­cial ad­viser to On­tario’s ba­sic in­come pi­lot project.

“But it’s not,” says the re­spected psy­chi­a­trist, re­searcher and in­ter­na­tional ex­pert on the so­cial causes of ill­ness, sui­cide and health eq­uity.

“We have spent a lot of time teach­ing peo­ple that if it seems too good to be true, it prob­a­bly is,” McKen­zie says. “You have to build tech­niques and strate­gies to re­as­sure peo­ple that they aren’t go­ing to be let down and it isn’t a scam.”

About 28,000 res­i­dents in the Hamil­ton-Brant­ford and Thun­der Bay areas have re­ceived 40-page ap­pli­ca­tion pack­ages in the mail since Premier Kath­leen Wynne launched the three-year ini­tia­tive in late April. Re­cruit­ment in Lindsay, the third trial site, be­gins later this fall.

The pi­lot is ex­pected to cost $50 mil­lion a year and help the govern­ment de­ter­mine whether a less in­tru­sive and more trust­ing ap­proach to de­liv­er­ing in­come sup­port im­proves health, ed­u­ca­tion and hous­ing out­comes for low-in­come work­ers and peo­ple on wel­fare. The govern­ment also wants to see if pro­vid­ing an in­come floor be­low which no­body can fall im­proves job prospects for those liv­ing on low in­comes.

But so far, the ran­dom­ized weekly mailouts have re­sulted in rel­a­tively few ap­pli­ca­tions and even fewer cheques in the hands of low-in­come On­tar­i­ans.

Based on feed­back from pub­lic in­for­ma­tion meet­ings over the sum­mer, many of the pack­ages landed in the mail­boxes of peo­ple who aren’t el­i­gi­ble, ei­ther be­cause they are too old or earn­ing too much money.

Up to 4,000 in­di­vid­u­als ages 18 to 64 with af­ter-tax in­comes un­der about $34,000 (or un­der $48,000 for cou­ples and un­der about $46,000 for a sin­gle per­son with a dis­abil­ity) will re­ceive the pro­vin­cial cash. Up to 4,000 oth­ers will get no ex­tra money, but will be tracked as a con­trol group.

“We have spent a lot of time teach­ing peo­ple that if it seems too good to be true, it prob­a­bly is.”


Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties will re­ceive an ad­di­tional $500 a month. And the ba­sic in­come will be re­duced by 50 cents for every dol­lar earned un­til a par­tic­i­pant is no longer fi­nan­cially el­i­gi­ble. The govern­ment won’t say how many have signed up or how many cheques were is­sued in July and Au­gust. But com­mu­nity agen­cies part­ner­ing with the govern­ment to raise aware­ness and help po­ten­tial par­tic­i­pants ap­ply, say few low-in­come peo­ple with ap­pli­ca­tion forms have come for­ward for as­sis­tance.

Macken­zie, who heads the Welles­ley In­sti­tute health think-tank and is di­rec­tor of clin­i­cal health eq­uity at the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health, says this isn’t un­usual and that stud­ies of this kind use ran­dom­ized mail-outs as much for ad­ver­tis­ing as re­cruit­ment.

It helps to get the word out, so when peo­ple are tapped in more tar­geted en­rol­ment ef­forts, they know some­thing about it, he says.

“If you want to reach more marginal­ized pop­u­la­tions you need a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways of get­ting peo­ple talk­ing about it,” he says.

Last month, pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials be­gan set­ting up open and tar­geted en­rol­ment ses­sions in food banks and com­mu­nity agen­cies in Thun­der Bay and Brant­ford. Lake­head So­cial Plan­ning Coun­cil in Thun­der Bay is also reach­ing out to po­ten­tial par­tic­i­pants over Face­book. Open en­rol­ment ses­sions will start in Hamil­ton next week. The weekly mail-outs have changed to a “less in­tim­i­dat­ing” onepage let­ter invit­ing peo­ple to re­quest an ap­pli­ca­tion pack­age or visit the govern­ment’s ba­sic in­come web­site for more in­for­ma­tion, said Karen Glass, the govern­ment’s se­nior bu­reau­crat on the file. Re­minder postcards are be­ing sent to those who re­ceived the ini­tial pack­age. And now, any­one liv­ing in the house­hold, in­clud­ing an adult son or daugh­ter — not just the per­son named on the en­ve­lope — will be el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply.

“What we learn from this pi­lot will help in­form our longer-term plans for in­come se­cu­rity re­form,” said So­cial Ser­vices Min­is­ter He­lena Jaczek and Hous­ing Min­is­ter Peter Mil­czyn, who are jointly lead­ing the project.

Trevor Beecraft, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wel­come Inn Com­mu­nity Cen­tre, Brant­ford’s only emer­gency home­less shel­ter, hopes the pi­lot project’s tar­geted en­rol­ment ef­forts reach his clients.

“The peo­ple we serve have no ad­dresses so those who could po­ten­tially ben­e­fit the most from the ba­sic in­come have had no ac­cess to the ap­pli­ca­tion form,” Beecraft said. The cen­tre’s 36-bed shel­ter in a lo­cal church pro­vided 8,000 sleeps last year and has served 232 in­di­vid­ual users so far this year.

“It’s go­ing to be a skewed re­sult if they don’t have the home­less in­volved in the de­mo­graph­ics of their study,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to hav­ing no ad­dress, many home­less peo­ple lack govern­ment-is­sued iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and most prob­a­bly haven’t filed their 2016 tax- es and won’t have a T1 tax re­turn doc­u­ment needed to ver­ify their in­come.

“The other bar­rier for the de­mo­graphic I work with is lit­er­acy . . . There are a lot of bar­ri­ers for those who could use this the most.”

Beecraft says the study needs to learn what sup­port home­less peo­ple would need if they sud­denly saw their in­comes jump.

This comes from a greater con­cern among anti-poverty ad­vo­cates that if the ba­sic in­come proves suc­cess­ful for higher func­tion­ing peo­ple on low-in­comes and even­tu­ally re­places wel­fare, ser­vices for the most vul­ner­a­ble would be cut to pay for the change.

“Just be­cause you give them more money doesn’t take away the chal­lenges of men­tal health or ad­dic­tions that many of them face,” Beecraft says. “But it would make it much eas­ier for or­ga­ni­za­tions like ours to find them suit­able hous­ing that meets their needs.”

Con­vinc­ing them to ap­ply for the pi­lot project, how­ever, is an­other mat­ter, he noted.

Some are afraid to try it be­cause there is no guar­an­tee they will be cho­sen to get the ex­tra money. Oth­ers can’t imag­ine mov­ing into more se­cure hous­ing and be­gin­ning to live a bet­ter life, only to see it taken away when the project ends in three years.

“Ev­ery­thing they would have built up through the pi­lot would be lost. Peo­ple with fore­sight are say­ing they don’t want to be in that sit­u­a­tion, even if they would be bet­ter off in the short term,” Beecraft says.

And for oth­ers it’s just para­noia. “It is hard for them to trust.”

Thun­der Bay res­i­dent Taras Hara­pyuk, who hasn’t worked since 2015 when he fell while lift­ing a lad­der off his truck, re­ceived an ap­pli­ca­tion pack­age in July and com­pleted it about three weeks ago.

The 57-year-old for­mer heat­ing and fire­place in­staller, who has been liv­ing on about $700 a month in wel­fare pay­ments, is “pray­ing” he will be among 4,000 cho­sen to re­ceive the cash.

“I was very happy to get (the ap­pli­ca­tion) be­cause I re­ally need tem­po­rary help,” he said by phone from his mod­est bun­ga­low where he has lost heat, hy­dro and even wa­ter due to mount­ing bills he can no longer pay.

Avis­it­ing nurse, who has been help­ing Hara­pyuk with pain man­age­ment af­ter back and shoul­der surgery re­lated to his in­jury, as­sisted with the ap­pli­ca­tion.

“I know how to save. I know how to make money last. It would help me get back on my feet,” he said Friday af­ter a phys­io­ther­apy ap­point­ment. “I am strong. I never give up. But I just need a lit­tle bit of help.”

Dr. Kwame McKen­zie is the new CEO of the pro­gres­sive think-tank fo­cused on health eq­uity.

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