Ontario Announces Plan For Basic Income Pilot Program That Will Give Citizens 'Free Money'

It's a program with a lot of promise.

Sometime this year, residents of Ontario, Canada will begin receiving money from the government for nothing more than being a citizen.

The pilot program, which in countries like the Netherlands is known as "basic income," is meant to provide every citizen with basic coverage of economic needs: enough money to help with rent expenses and pay for food.

Critics of the program suggest that it will give "lazy" people the chance to skip out on work. 

"Frankly, I want to tear my hair out every time I hear that," Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, told A Plus. "There really is no proof of that... All of the studies that we've got show that is in fact not true at all, and lots of studies show that contrary to working less some people work more."

Research has shown that similar economic support actually increases productivity with 17 percent longer hours and 38 percent more earned. 

Even in situations where there is a reduction in paid labor force participation, it's not for lack of effort — people might choose to stay in school to get a better education or make the decision to spend a little more time with very young children; Canadian evidence indicates this is usually a short-term reduction. 

The movement for basic income in Canada has been pushed by a network that includes academics, politicians, doctors and activists. While the finer details of the program — like how much citizens will be given and when it will start — are yet to be ironed out, buzz around the initiative is already growing. The Canadian Medical Association has endorsed the program across the board and doctors working in low-income neighborhoods have become some of the strongest advocates for the program nationwide. 

"A lot of these doctors working with low-income people are saying the prescription that would really help these people that we can't give is money," Regehr said. "Some of the medical practices actually help low-income people get support from other places by helping them apply for other income sources."

The reason for this, she says, is quite simple: Canada's healthcare system is being overwhelmed by poverty because many people can't meet basic needs and stay healthy. But this ends up hurting both the government and the people. When you have a lot of people who can't meet their needs with their own income, they get sick, and when they can't afford medicine, they get sicker. Then hospitals take them in to treat them, and it costs the government a fortune. 

The solution, according to Regehr? Basic income. 

If the program is anything like what they have in the Netherlands, it could be a substantial help for hundreds of families. In the city of Tilburg, Netherlands, each citizen gets about $1,000 a month from the government regardless of their economic standing. 

When the plan gets rolled out in Ontario, it will use money set aside for the experiment in Ontario's budget, and Regehr says a lot of the money will come from more progressive taxation, streamlining and savings down the road. Advocates hope is that the pilot will "provide a more efficient way of delivering income support, strengthen the attachment to the labour force, and achieve savings in other areas, such as health care and housing supports," according to the Ministry of Finance's website

In the event the program is a success, you can bet other countries will consider it as well.

Cover photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images.