Guaranteed minimum income is deserving of a closer look

A couple of weeks ago, our MLA Vicki Huntington wrote in the Optimist regarding a couple of constituents who had fallen onto hard times. The details were hard to follow but in essence, the issue seems to be persons with disabilities who were trying to survive on monthly Canada Pension Plan disability pensions.

You are eligible for the CPP disability pension if you had been making CPP contributions and were now disabled to such an extent that you could no longer work. The maximum amount that Huntington's constituents were eligible for was $900 a month - certainly not a very robust amount on which to exist.

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In both cases, the constituent appears to have attempted to supplement their meager income from the CPP disability pension with other sources of income. In one case, it was a small RRSP annuity; in the other it was a Workers

Compensation Board pension.

According to Huntington, the government clawed back the amount of any income in excess of the CPP disability pension, which meant the recipients were back down to trying to live on $900 a month - a pretty bleak future.

Huntington came to the conclusion that a different approach is required for our social safety net. She stated, "It is time we consider a guaranteed minimum income. It would be cheaper and it would restore dignity to a process that no longer works for the people who need it most."

Some letter writers have endorsed her conclusion. One accused her of becoming a socialist. (That writer needs to check the definition of socialist.) A guaranteed minimum wage has been discussed in the past. Rather than dealing with the issue on a universal basis, we get a whole lot of tweaking of the current system.

It is tweaking of the current disjointed system that leads to the type of situation that our MLA describes where certain individuals and/or families fall through the cracks. A universal scheme could use the Old Age Security as a model. Every person over the age of 65 is entitled to receive the rather negligible Old Age Security amount that is then taxed back

from high-income earners.

Unbeknownst to me until I started reading on the subject, a guaranteed minimum income was tried in Dauphin, Manitoba back in the 1970s. Under a joint federalprovincial program, residents of the western Manitoba town who had income below the then poverty line of $2,100 received $1,200 a month.

The aim of the $17-million program was to determine whether providing extra money directly to residents below a certain household income level would make for effective social policy. The program ran for five years and then was shut down without the reams of data on the program being analyzed.

No formal report was done, so there was no conclusion as to the efficacy of the program. A study of the health effects in the community was subsequently done by Evelyn Forget, a University of Manitoba professor. She found that overall health improved and hospital rates declined during the period. The drop in hospital visits was reported as 8.5 per cent.

Since lack of money can be a major stress factor (as demonstrated by Huntington's report), the elimination of that problem should have positive health effects. The idea of a guaranteed minimum income is certainly worthy of further study and debate.

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