HAMILTON—On the May day they learned they had been accepted into the province’s basic income pilot project, the Hamilton couple cried.
“I just felt like after so long of everything just constantly going wrong and having the worst kind of luck that we finally had something go right,” said Dan Weiss.
He and partner Justine Taylor were “desperate” after both lost “what little work” they had, getting behind on bills and rent and, to top it all off, finding out they were expecting a baby — a little brother for nine-year-old Julia.
“We just needed something solid to stand on,” he said.
The pair hoped the monthly guaranteed income would give them a chance for opportunity — to move out of a bad living situation, go back to school and start their own businesses — but also to catch up on bills and allow Julia to go on school trips.
“It gave us room to breathe,” she said.
But less than three months later, the new Tory government announced in July it was cancelling the pilot for all 4,000 participants, including 1,000 Hamilton residents.
Away at a cottage for a bachelor party, Weiss said he received a message from Taylor breaking the news.
“It was devastating,” the 33-year-old said. “I felt like I was punched in the stomach.”
“We barely even got a chance to get started.”
With the payments wrapping up in March, Weiss fears they’ll be right back where they were before.
Taylor, 28, is already looking at job postings and plans to head back to work as soon as Orion will take a bottle — prepared to juggle as many as three jobs to get by — despite having completed a three-month makeup artistry program.
Weiss never had the chance to go back to school before the province announced it was scrapping the project.
They’re worried about losing their home without the extra income, which was up to $17,000 a year for individuals and $24,000 for couples, less 50 per cent for money earned.
“Now we’re going to have to try juggling a newborn and finding the first things that come along,” Weiss said. “It’s increasingly looking like we just kind of have to give up on all the work that we were trying to put in.”
While they now can’t imagine life without baby Orion, not having the added income may have forced them to make a different decision, Taylor said.
“To be honest, I think that having the basic income even allowed us to keep the baby,” she said, cradling the newborn in her arms.
The holidays added another layer on an already tough situation.
Thankfully, the hospital where Taylor delivered Orion was expected to come by with a basket of toys for the kids, and she had been “micro-shopping” for months to make sure there was something Christmas morning.
While the couple is not optimistic about the prospect of the program being reinstated, Weiss said he has a “shred of hope.”
The pair participated in Hamilton basic income recipient Jessie Golem’s photo series called Humans of Basic Income in which recipients hold up signs describing their personal plights.
They hope Golem’s project and public debate about basic income helps break the stigma some may have around the program and its recipients by putting faces and stories to the project.
“It’s making people realize that we are people, too,” Taylor said.
As for the future of the basic income project, the city received a response from the federal government at a recent council meeting after urging it to take over the project.
In the letter, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos indicates it’s up to the province to decide its social assistance systems and policies.
But in a recent interview with The Canadian Press, Duclos said the current suite of federal programs could one day be enhanced to provide a minimum income of sorts to all Canadians, particularly those without children who aren’t eligible for federal family or seniors’ benefits or a coming program aimed at the working poor.
—With files from The Canadian Press