Four days after giving birth on Sept. 21, Leanna Segura was back at work.
The 35-year-old business owner isn’t taking a maternity leave from her eatery, Fresh FueLL. She can’t afford to. She says she took “just enough time to kind of heal up."
She added: “Because every hour I'm not there, I'm paying someone else to be there.”
Her husband, Luis, manages the two-year-old restaurant, located on Lindsay’s downtown strip. He also helps out at home with their three other children, aged seven, five, and three. But the couple could still use some help paying the bills.
“There's this misconception where people think, you opened up a business, you made it,” he says.
“But it is a struggle. We have six employees that we have to take care of … there's the overhead … there's all these other things you have to pay before you pay yourself, if you can even pay yourself. And at the end of all that, we have our home and we have the expenses of home.”
Luis says a guaranteed basic income would let the Seguras invest more in extra-curricular activities for the kids.
Leanna estimates her family could receive roughly $700 per month if they were among the 2,000 Lindsay residents randomly selected to participate in Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot.
The province wants to test whether basic income works better than the current system by looking at how chosen recipients compare to a control group on measures including food security, health, housing, employment, and education.
The three-year experiment, already underway in the Thunder Bay and Hamilton regions, launches in Lindsay this fall. The government will soon be sending out applications. To qualify, Lindsay residents must be between 18 and 64 years old, and must have lived in Lindsay for at least the past 12 months. Individuals must be earning less than $34,000 a year and couples less than $48,000. They must be able to provide a copy of their 2016 tax return.
Low-income individuals could receive up to $17,000 annually and couples could receive up to $24,000, minus half of any earned income.
Mike Perry, executive director of the Kawartha Lakes Family Health Team, is a huge advocate of the program. He helped lobby the government to choose Lindsay as a test location.
“This isn't just for the poor,” Perry says. “This is for everyone who meets that financial criteria. It could be a struggling farmer, it could be a new small business owner putting his money into his business and still has kids to feed, [or] a college student who didn't qualify for OSAP but still needs help financially.”
Post-secondary student Marina Jackson works part-time while studying early childhood education full-time at Fleming College in nearby Peterborough. The 26-year-old, who lives with her fiancé, gets about $4,000 per semester from OSAP but is still considering getting a second job to help make ends meet.
She says basic income would help. “A little bit of extra cash for food and necessities would be nice.”
Dana Bowman is a 57-year-old Lindsay resident on disability pay. She suffers from chronic pain due to fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. The Ontario Disability Support Program covers the cost of her housing and gives her $649 a month, which she says no longer covers her basic needs, due to the rising cost of food.
She’d like to work but says ODSP makes that challenging; she loses her benefits if she earns more than $200 a month.
Bowman tries to stay busy by volunteering as much as she can. Otherwise, her days are spent “doing a whole lot of nothing.”
“I believe the current system doesn’t work. It keeps people confined,” she says. "It’s demoralizing. I do think the basic income is a better answer.”
Perry estimates the program could bring in $50 million of new spending into the community and says small businesses like Fresh FueLL stand to reap the rewards.
The Seguras aren’t banking on being chosen; they see basic income as a potential bonus. “One way or another, you gotta make it happen,” Luis says. "Any bit helps. At the end of the day, we’re go-getters. So we’re going to make it work.”
Patricia Kozicka is a multi-platform journalist based in Toronto.
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