Basic Income Pilot Project Raises Serious Concerns

Posted 22 September 2017 by in Featured

Premier Wynne in Hamilton making the Basic Income pilot project announcement

Premier Wynne in Hamilton making the Basic Income pilot project announcement

THUNDER BAY – I received a letter last night from the director of the Basic Income Pilot, in response to my request for more information, about what I was signing up for.

She wrote, “If you decide to enroll and are facing a court order to repay consumer debt that would reduce your Basic Income payment and find that this leaves you in a worse financial situation than when you were receiving ODSP, let us know. We can help you opt out of the OBIP, and be rapidly reinstated onto ODSP.”

That sounds nice of her, does it?

She has left all 4000 of us in the province, who sign up to be in the basic income pilot, open to unlimited garnishment and seizure, and the consequences are catastrophic, according to Richard Atkinson. I know Rick as the most powerful advocate in the provincial legal clinic system, who happens to work in my home town, Thunder Bay.

I was involved with a group of other disabled people and lawyers from around the province, and one woman from the legal clinic that does systemic advocacy on income for us suggested I blog about being in the basic income pilot.  Pat Capponni, Canada’s most famous anti-poverty activist said do it.

As soon as I started, CBC called me. I just got home from CBC radio. I have to get the word out. I have to warn people.

To be eligible for the pilot, you have to be living in poverty, and so far, 100% of the people I know in this group have consumer debt that can be collected. But nobody was told we are not protected, the way we were on social assistance, where our income could not be garnished.  People don’t realize that basic income will go into accounts on Sept 25, and if we are sued, could be taken out the same day, and there is no legal recourse. We could end up with nothing. This is a horrendous pilot. What algorithm is the province testing?

We already know that the current level of poverty in our province leads to premature death. The study called Code Red showed that the poorest in the community of Hamilton, die prematurely, from poverty, 21 years on average. That is probably worse in Thunder Bay with our much higher than average rate of disability in the Indigenous community. I wonder if this new pilot will result in premature death at a rate faster than that? This pilot has left us wide open to be sued by unscrupulous slumlords, which is who where we live, due to inadequate rates of social assistance. I have been fighting to raise the rates, with OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) but my people keep dying. it’s so hard.

I find it monstrous that my community has not being informed about the Pilot’s consumer debt policy. They have no idea what they signed up for. The province’s policy on consumer debt is nowhere in writing.  I finally got it after 5 pm last night after applying quite a lot of pressure from many angles, including people in high places. We need time to consider what this means. Many of us on ODSP, maybe 80% I think, have serious mental illness, and various other serious brain and cognitive impairments, that mean we need to be able to go to our supports, to understand what this leaves us open to. Far as I know I’m the only one who has the policy in writing so far. I went to CBC with it today. I am scorched.

How is it ok that the province has enticed vulnerable people, all who are living far below the poverty line, to sign up for almost double what we get now, and did not tell us that we could end up with no money, and that our slumlords who sue us will get paid? We know exactly who the slumlords in Thunder Bay are. Its outrageously absurdly evil to me, that this is going on on my watch. I am resisting this with all of my being. I am saying NO WAY!

But it just wasn’t hard to get me to agree to sign up after many years on ODSP. income. But I went to the legal clinic for advice. Please do the same.  call 344-2478.

We received a schedule of payments that confirmed we start to get payments sept 25. It said we had time to consider what to do. It said we could stay on ODSP meantime, and if we didn’t sign out of ODSP in time, ODSP would create an overpayment. Ok. So, the province promised was going to handle this transition with some grace. they acknowledge it is a momentous decision to enter the pilot, especially after many years in poverty.

And I got ODSP to tell me in writing that the way they would handle overpayments was it would suspend the collection, until after4 years down the road.

But that didn’t happen.

ODSP cut me off.

Wow.

Pressured, before there was any policy in writing on consumer debt. I really got bullied to sign myself out of ODSP.

Very strong arms being used on very vulnerable population. Why?

I suggested to the director she needed to honour the written promise to give us more time to consider our legal rights. I asked for an overlap month for all of us. an overpayment for month.

I even told her she needed to forgive the overpayments since they didn’t have the policies yet for us to get legal advice on. That was on the province, not our fault.  She said no way.

Last night the director of the pilot also let me know she has personally decided to suspend any payments to me from the pilot. Was this, I gather punishment? lol.

Perhaps it was encouragement to keep my mouth shut?

Do I have a legal right to expect my payments from the pilot if I have written confirmation that I was selected?  I’m no good at being silent. I’m good at the truth. I’m good at speaking up.

So now I am getting income from nowhere. And no one is taking my calls today. Naturally.  I am acutely and chronically ill. I am alone. I am scared. I am completely broke.

No one would be worse off in the pilot, was what Gravelle’s office told me.

Call your MPP’s and tell them we expect them to install safety and protection to be built into the pilot. Protection from Garnishment like section 18(1) in the ODSP Act.  With that protection in place, the pilot is an opportunity of a lifetime.  Stop for a minute with me and imagine that pilot worth studying. It leads to improved health and goodness and longevity in my community. I want you to imagine that right now. And believe in that and feel grateful for that. Because it’s what we deserve and what we will are creating as we speak. And we have political will. and we have community support. and we have good people and we have so much potential getting unleashed here and in seats of power, thanks all the Indigenous activists who know how to raise power Meegwetch for what you have taught me.  I am at your service. Never underestimate the power of a few people to change things need changing.

Smiles.

Ruth Westcott

Please Contact Ruth Westcott from Thunder Bay on Facebook.