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Secure income pilot project coming to P.E.I.

Social Development and Housing Minister Ernie Hudson and Premier Dennis King wait for question period to begin at the P.E.I. legislature.
Social Development and Housing Minister Ernie Hudson and Premier Dennis King wait for question period to begin at the P.E.I. legislature. - Mitch MacDonald

Social Development minister says program is not a basic income guarantee

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The Progressive Conservatives will not be funding a study of a basic income guarantee program, says Social Development and Housing Minister Ernie Hudson.

Instead, the province will be moving forward to implement a secure income pilot, a means-tested benefit program for individuals with barriers to entering the workforce. The province has allocated $225,000 towards the program in its recently tabled budget. Hudson told The Guardian the program would provide assistance to roughly 400 Islanders, with an anticipated start date of January 2020.

The program is distinct from a basic income guarantee, which would offer a lump-sum payment to all Islanders below a certain income threshold. A government representative said the secure income pilot would look at multiple criteria, such as number of dependants and disability, as well as income, although the eligibility criteria is still being determined. The program benefits would not be taxable. 

Hudson said the program could be offered over-and-above social assistance and disability benefits. He said individuals who are currently working, but still living in poverty, would still be eligible.

“Our secure income program, while not a basic income guarantee for all Islanders, will support the Island’s most vulnerable, those who have severe barriers to employment,” Hudson told the legislature.

"It's going to put the money, even in this fiscal year, right into the pockets of the most vulnerable Islanders."

Hudson said he still supports a basic income guarantee but said federal partnership would be needed. He said the secure income pilot could be implemented immediately.

After the P.E.I. legislature unanimously passed a motion in support of a basic income guarantee in November of 2016, the federal government declined to offer direct financial assistance to develop a pilot on the Island.

In a briefing to reporters on last week, PC Finance Minister Darlene Compton said the budget would include funding for "a study on the basic income guarantee, which we are committing to." Compton said this was an item that had been the result of collaboration between her party and the Greens. 

But Hannah Bell, the Green party critic for social development and housing, says the secure income program falls short of this commitment from the PCs, and is a far cry from a basic income guarantee. She said the details of the secure income pilot were only revealed in the legislature on Friday.

"That's not acceptable. It's not what we negotiated, it's not what was communicated to us as what would be included and I'm very disappointed," Bell said. 

Bell said the request for a study on basic income guarantee would have been relatively inexpensive but would have indicated the issue was a priority for government.

In addition to funding a commission, the Greens had pressed for significant increases in social assistance rates. Government house leader Sidney MacEwen told The Guardian last week that this request was turned down because the increases would have cost as much as $6 million. But he said Green requests, including $100,000 in funding for a women’s shelter and $150,000 in support for midwifery, were incorporated in the budget.

But Bell said Friday’s announcement brings into question whether Green priorities were meaningfully incorporated into Tuesday’s budget.

"It feels like a deliberate process to be disingenuous with the commitments that were made, and for me, personally, it makes it very difficult for me to support this budget."

A vote on the proposed budget will be a confidence motion, meaning the PC government would fall if it does not pass with the support of at least some of the Greens or Liberals.


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