People and programs 08/13/2018

Jessica lives with a roommate in Hamilton, Ontario. She’s chatty and vivacious, and loves to socialize.
 
When she was a teenager, Jessica was in two car accidents, which impacted her health. After living in an apartment with mold in the walls, Jessica developed a condition called ataxia, leaving her wheelchair-bound and unable to work.
 
Until recently, Jessica has depended on the Ontario Disability Support Program for her livelihood. ODSP maxes out at $1,128 per month for a single person – $13,536 per year. That’s well below the $25,516 Statistics Canada uses as a poverty line. Such a tight income leaves no room for overspending, or unexpected expenses. Jessica can list her bills to the penny off the top of her head. Making ends meet was a struggle and a stress every single month.
 
“I was never really a happy person on ODSP,” she says. Getting food from the food bank was a help, but so much of it was processed, and she found it affected her energy levels.
 

Basic income pilot program offered hope, choice and dignity

When the Ontario government announced Hamilton as one of the four locations for the three-year Basic Income Pilot program in 2017, Jessica saw a light at the end of the tunnel. She applied and was one of the 4,000 people who were chosen to participate. Her monthly income shot up from $1,128 to $1,915.75 – a 70 per cent increase. She chose to use the extra money to focus on her health, and started to fill her fridge with healthy foods she couldn’t afford on ODSP.
 
“I feel better. I’m not dragged down, my energy level is higher,” she says. “Physically and mentally, everything is brighter to me now.
 
“I’m finding it very nice to be able to buy bananas that are not brown and it’s nice to buy a head of lettuce and be able to make a salad.”
 

Change cut short

Mid-way through the pilot program, just as things were finally looking up for Jessica and her health, the new Ontario government pulled the plug, in spite of promises by Premier Ford on the campaign trail that the new Conservative government would continue to fund the $150 million program. In the announcement, Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod, said that giving away “money without strings attached  . . . doesn’t send the message . . . our government wants to send.”
 
That portrayal of the program doesn’t sit well with Jessica: “I didn’t ask for this. I’m in this situation because of my health.”
 
Jessica worries about how her health will suffer now that she has to go back to relying on food charity to fill her fridge. And she’s concerned about the loss of the evaluation data that would have come out of the program, which would have provided an understanding of the benefits of a basic income. “We haven’t even been given a chance to answer those questions,” she says. “I want people to know how other people live.”
 
“I’d like Premier Ford to try living on what I live on on ODSP for six months. Don’t get help from family, don’t get help from friends. Live in an apartment that you can barely rent, and then say, ‘Do you like the way you live, do you like the way people look at you?’”
 
“Those people really need to see how it is for us.” 

Read our response to the cancellation of Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot Program.
 
Jessica is a community member at the Hamilton Community Food Centre. Read how the centre helps people access healthy food and connect with the supports they need.