PC Government promises social assistance pilot project

P.E.I.'s new Progressive Conservative minority government says it wants to introduce a new social assistance pilot program within the next six months.

Among the many priorities outlined's in Friday's Throne Speech was a commitment to implement a Secure Income Program Pilot. 

"It's to provide a basic level of income, if you like, that will be means-tested. But to provide for the essential needs of Islanders right across the board," said Minister of Social Development and Housing Ernie Hudson. 

The program is one of the recommendations that came out of the province's Poverty Reduction Action Plan in 2018.

Means-tested program

In recent years, there have been discussions on the Island about a universal basic income guarantee for all Islanders. In late 2016, all MLAs voted unanimously in support of a motion to work with the federal government to try to develop a basic income pilot program. 

Efforts to work out a partnership — with funding from Ottawa — were unsuccessful. 

While the Secure Income Program proposed by the PCs is different from a basic income guarantee, Hudson said for Islanders living in poverty it would be an improvement from the supports they currently receive through social assistance programs. 

Brian McInnis/CBC

"Presently we would have programs that may be targeting one specific area. Whether it's with regard to disability, whether it's with regard to income support, things along that line," Hudson said. 

"This would be more of right across the board, to ensure that Islanders who do qualify, that they receive all of the essentials, and the monetary funds, if you like, to provide for those essentials."

Greens advocate for basic income 

Opposition social development and housing critic Hannah Bell said the Greens were not consulted on the program, and she doesn't know the specific details.

But she said she is glad to see some of her priorities reflected. 

"Absolutely Islanders in poverty need assistance. And that was obviously such a clear piece of our narrative. And we were really happy to hear today that, you know, talking about poverty elimination is really important language to see reflected in a throne speech," Bell said. 

Brian McInnis/CBC

However she would still like to see a basic income pilot project. 

"We'll continue to advocate for immediate action, in terms of things like social assistance rates, disability rates and general support for people who are struggling, as well as those longer-term projects like a basic income guarantee." 

Program would require federal funding

Hudson did not provide details about the levels of assistance Islanders would receive through the pilot program, or how long the program would run.

He did say that he would like to see the pilot begin within six months. To do so, the province would need to partner with the federal government. 

The Throne Speech also included commitments to speed up the development of affordable housing, provide more rental supports and address issues around short-term rentals.

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