While a Lindsay’s woman’s life is being changed for the better with basic income, she wishes the Province would also assign case workers for those who are used to having a human face in their corner.
Jennifer Brooke, a young woman who previously received income from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), made the jump to Lindsay’s basic income pilot last October, getting her first cheque on Nov. 25 – and it’s really making a positive impact in her life.
She went from receiving about $1,150 a month on ODSP to $1,925 a month on basic income.
“I’m very grateful for the increase in money – it’s made a huge difference in my life,” she says.
She donated a little bit to a charity that was meaningful for her family. Her cat got the shots her vet told her she needed. She was able to get Christmas gifts for her circle of family and friends that were “not from the dollar store.”
She even had enough bus money to visit her dad for Christmas — and since he lives on a fixed income, too, she was even able to help him out a little.
“I have a little breathing room now. I can even afford migraine pills,” since they’re not covered by OHIP.
But not everything was smooth and straightforward in her changeover from ODSP to basic income. On ODSP, her drugs were 100 per cent covered with nothing more than her Ontario Health Card. In the switch to basic income, she was to receive a paper drug card in the mail.
But she says she didn’t get it, which was very stressful.
Brooke immediately called the toll free number provided by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
“They just couldn’t explain why I didn’t have a card, and they weren’t fast enough in dealing with it,” she says, which made her long for a real, local case worker, like she had with ODSP.
It took six days into the month before someone finally got around to calling in the ‘okay’ to her pharmacist.
In the second month, there was another drug card glitch.
According to Brooke’s social worker, Carolyn Simmons, who has a private practice in Lindsay, on the second month when the pharmacist ran the card information through the system, it was declined.
“This was in spite of the information given by the basic income program person to the pharmacy, the month prior, that the coverage was good until February,” says Simmons.
Eventually someone fixed the situation from the Ministry — a person known only as ‘Courtney’ to Brooke. She seemed to have the authority to quickly make decisions and got her reinstated for her drug program again.
The social worker says it’s not a minor issue for people who rely on medications, and for those who are chronically poor.
“This kind of thing can create multiple, acute problems all the way along. I just wonder if the government people running this need a better manual, so to speak,” Simmons tells The Lindsay Advocate.
The Advocate contacted the government to inquire about this issue, and ones like it.
Matt Ostergard, a spokesperson for Peter Milcyzn, the minister of housing and minister responsible for the poverty reduction strategy, says one of the core principles of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot is that “no one be made worse off as a result of participating in the pilot.”
“That’s why we will make sure people who receive social assistance can keep their drug benefits when they participate in the pilot.”
One improvement Ostergard says the Ministry will be making, which should be helpful for Brooke and clients in similar situations, is to change the way drug benefits are given.
“In order to do that, we need to make a change to the Ontario Drug Benefit Program to ensure that they can continue to access their benefits the same way they do now – by using their health card. We’re working with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to make this change right now,” he says, so they don’t have to rely on that paper drug card being mailed each month.
Ostergard says in the meantime, as was the case here, “when a participant has issues with their drug card, they can reach out to the Ontario Basic Income Pilot team who will fax or email a copy of their drug card directly to their pharmacy to make sure they can access the medication they need.”
However, it doesn’t appear that Brooke’s wish for personal case workers will be in the cards for the basic income pilot.
Ostergard says there is a “temporary pilot enrolment team established to work with individuals to assist in understanding and enrolling in the pilot.”
“Once the pilot is fully enrolled there will be limited administrative support. Supports will be available through other resources such as 211,” he says. (According to the Province, “211 helps to navigate the complex network of human services quickly and easily, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in over 150 languages.”)
Quality of Life is Better
While it wasn’t a smooth beginning for Brooke to move to basic income, she emphasizes she doesn’t want “to bash the whole experience.”
“I’m so happy with the new freedom this is giving me,” she says.
The social worker agrees.
“Her quality of life is significantly impacted for the better,” says Simmons.
Still Time to Enroll
If you live here in Lindsay (or Hamilton area and Thunder Bay) there’s still time to join Ontario’s basic income pilot.
In order to participate in the pilot, you must be:
- 18 to 64 years old (for the entire duration of the three-year study)
- living in one of the selected test regions (like Lindsay) for the past 12 months or longer (and still live there)
- living on a low income (under $34,000 per year if you’re single or under $48,000 per year if you’re a couple)
If you are interested in signing up for basic income, just follow this link to easily sign up for a session.
The sessions in Lindsay are always held at either Celebrations (the old Queen Street United Church) or in the basement of Kawartha Lakes Public Library.
— Jennifer Brooke and Carolyn Simmons are not their real names, which have been protected by The Lindsay Advocate, as per their request.