Poverty committee crunching numbers on basic income guarantee

The P.E.I. Legislature's special committee on poverty heard testimony Wednesday on whether it is feasible to create a basic income guarantee for Prince Edward Islanders.

The idea behind a basic income guarantee is to make sure everyone has enough money to live on. Rather than calculating assistance based on ability to work or find a job, people would be guaranteed a certain income under any circumstances.

The committee is working on how the province could afford such a system.

It heard from Karen McCaffrey, the province's director of social programs. McCaffrey said with rate increases that came into effect Jan. 1, the province has the highest rates for social assistance in the Maritimes.

"For a couple of the categories the highest in the country, for families with two children," she said.

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A basic income guarantee could potentially replace social assistance in the province.

"Based on the outcome of this committee we would be looking at the impact on our own programs but that's something we haven't looked at yet," said McCaffrey.

Pilot project or experiment?

One of the issues the committee is struggling with is measuring the impact of social assistance, on the province in general, and specifically on the 3,400 families and individuals currently receiving support.

"I want to know how we're going to measure the change. Measurements can become key," said Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly.

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"We have to figure out is this going to be a pilot program, where we're testing the system of delivery, or if this is an experiment."

Green MLA Hannah Bell said while social assistance rates may be relatively high on P.E.I., they are well below federal measures of the actual cost of living.

"In PEI, currently, it's $19,000, just over $19,000 a year. A single person on social assistance gets $13,000 a year. That's a really big gap," said Bell.

"We're learning a lot about what we need to take into account."

The committee will continue to hear testimony this month. It aims to deliver a report to the legislature this summer.

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