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Prince Edward County council calls for national guaranteed income program

November 14, 2023

By Nicole Kleinsteuber. INQUINTE.CA

Prince Edward County council is joining other municipalities in calling on upper levels of government to establish a guaranteed livable income to help eradicate poverty.

The motion put forward by Coun. Bill Roberts was approved on Tuesday night. This comes as the Senate Finance Committee began looking into a national framework for a guaranteed basic income for everyone in Canada over 17 last month.

“No one wins when poverty is rampant,” Roberts stated. “Income is also the core issue in our County food insecurity crisis.”

Roberts’ recommendation directed Mayor Steve Ferguson to write letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Michael Parsa, MP Ryan Williams and MPP Todd Smith calling on upper levels of government to create a program.

The Ontario livable wage for Hastings and Prince Edward, in 2022 was determined to be $19.05, which is $3.55 more than the provincial minimum wage rate of $15.50, a report penned by Clerk Catalina Blumenberg noted.

Residents on programs such as Ontario Works, receive targeted fixed monthly incomes of $733, and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients receive $1,376. Prince Edward County’s 2023 Vital Signs Report stated approximately 3,500 residents are living on low income (less than $36,000 a year after taxes) and the County’s median income lags behind Ontario by $7,500 annually.

The average rent for a one bedroom in the County in accordance with the County Housing Plan goes for $1,513 a month. As of March 31 there are 1,089 households on the Prince Edward – Lennox and Addington Social Services wait list for subsidized housing in Prince Edward County.

The County Food Collective, Food bank use is up 26 percent in Prince Edward County and as many as 6,000 residents experience food insecurity over a year’s time.

To add to the County’s numbers, “seven million Canadians on this very day are unable to afford the food that they need,” Roberts added.

“Across Canada 81 per cent of Canadians clearly say that they feel that all levels of government should be doing more to assist those living with poverty,” Roberts said. “Hopefully these suggestions could go some way along the path of creating a truly equitable and inclusive economy.”

Coun. David Harrison was the lone councillor to express his skepticism of the program.

“There is a disconnect in this County somewhere because there are jobs that pay more than $19.05 an hour and there are a multitude of employers that can’t fill those jobs,” he said. “There are jobs that pay a living wage and there is nobody to fill them…I’m not positive that what you’re proposing is the solution.”

Roberts maintained his stance on the need for a universal program.

“If we are content with tinkering on the edges with underfunding narrow programs with programs that don’t connect with one another as well intentioned and absolutely essential as those programs are at this moment we will continue to have this program that you quite clearly articulate,” he said. “That kind of poverty infringes on each and every one of us.”

Coun. Kate MacNaughton agreed a program would prevent those living on low-incomes, OW and ODSP from “falling through the cracks.”

Recently the City of Belleville, Greater Napanee and the Town of Grimsby voiced its support for a guaranteed livable income program.

Ontario tested a pilot program in 2017 under former Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government. It was offered to 4,000 low-income residents living in Hamilton, Brantford, Thunder Bay, and Lindsay earning less than $34,000 annually. Single participants received up to $16,989 a year while couples received up to $24,027, less 50 per cent of any earned income. People with disabilities received an additional $6,000. The pilot project ended soon after the Ford government was elected in 2018.

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