Everything you need to know about P.E.I.’s targeted basic income program

As the cost of living continues to climb in households right across Prince Edward Island, there have been renewed calls for governments to implement basic income guarantee programs. 

Earlier this year, Social Development and Seniors Minister Barb Ramsay said her government is still committed to implementing a basic income and is working to bring in a program within the next four years — something the province will need federal support to accomplish. 

But in the meantime, P.E.I. has been quietly operating its own targeted basic income pilot program.

Here’s what you need to know.

The Targeted Basic Income Guarantee, or T-BIG program, started back in 2021 after the province expanded its secure income pilot project

T-BIG is available to people who are clients of social assistance and AccessAbility supports, as long as they meet certain criteria. 

Shelley Cole, director of social programs for the province, said the program specifically targets people who have multiple barriers to employment, which includes people with disabilities and youth aging out of care. 

‘Effectively what T-BIG does is top up existing benefits to bring people within 85 per cent of the market-basket measure,’ says director of social programs Shelley Cole. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

“The focus is really on people who have severe limitations to being connected to employment and therefore being able to be financially independent,” Cole said. 

Participants also have to be between the age of 18 and 60, able to live independently, at a certain level of income, and a client of social assistance programs for five of the last six years.  

As of this September, Cole said 635 participants were receiving payments from the program. 

How does it work? 

Since participants are already social assistance clients, there’s no application process. Instead, people are selected by the department for the program, Cole said. 

“Effectively what T-BIG does is top up existing benefits to bring people within 85 per cent of the market-basket measure,” Cole said. 

The market-basket measure, otherwise known as Canada’s official poverty line, is set annually by Statistics Canada. It takes into account the cost of a “basket” of food, clothing, shelter, transportation and other necessities in each province.  

Cole said a single person receiving social assistance or assured income on P.E.I. would receive financial support for food, clothing and shelter as well as a communication allowance. 

“When you calculate those three items… then you stack that up against 85 per cent of the market-basket measure for a single individual living in Prince Edward Island, we would then be effectively topping up their existing rates,” Cole said. 

“That calculation would bring single individuals within 85 per cent of the market-basket measure.”

The amount of top-up a person receives will be different depending on their family dynamic. 

Right now, the program targets single people or couples who don’t have any dependents or children, she said. 

“They see the largest gap in total financial resources available as compared to single parents or couples with families when you factor in benefits that are received from the federal government,” Cole said. 

Program falls short of universal basic income guarantee 

Cole said the department is planning to do a formal review of the T-BIG program soon.

This is good news to Marie Burge, who works with the Cooper Institute and the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income. 

She said while the program is a positive step in the right direction, it’s not what she would consider a full, universal basic income guarantee since some people are excluded by the department’s criteria. 

“What we’re looking for is a basic income guarantee,” she said. “It will be available to everybody on Prince Edward Island who falls below the market-basket measure for poverty. It’s quite different.” 

A woman dressed in a red blazer smiles to the camera.
Marie Burge, who works with the Cooper Institute and the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income, is glad to see the province taking steps to try a basic income program, but says the pilot falls short of the universally accessible program advocates are calling for. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

Burge agrees her preferred model can only be offered through a partnership with and financial support from the federal government.

But she said the fact that the province is trying its own program is a very positive sign. She expects an evaluation to show it’s been successful — something that can help P.E.I. make a case for expanding to a more universal program.

It does show that it works in that it changes peoples’ lives.— Marie Burge

“The informal information I have about it is that it’s really making a difference in people’s lives, which is not a surprise,” she said. 

 “It does show that it works in that it changes peoples’ lives.”

The province spends $2.3 million annually to fund the program, which Cole said is no longer considered a pilot project. She said the province would need to partner with the federal government to expand the program any further, something she said Ramsay continues to explore. 

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