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Ottawa church advocating for universal basic income as federal bills consider the issue

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A concept that aims to lift people out of poverty is growing at Ottawa’s Rideau Park United Church.

The social action and outreach committee at the church has been raising awareness for universal basic income, a policy that would give a fixed amount to everybody, every month, regardless of their income.

Supporters of the policy say it can alleviate the red tape from programs such as welfare and employment insurance.

"Once when got out of the pandemic, prices were rising, housing was becoming unaffordable, food banks were being overwhelmed – we’re seeing it everyday," said Lorraine Busby, a member of the church's social action and outreach committee.

“Basic income is a response to poverty."

The support for basic income with the United Church of Canada goes back decades.

The concept has gained traction in Canada in recent months as a pair of federal bills that would lay the ground work for a new program to provide everyone over the age of 17 a guaranteed livable income are being considered.

Bill S-233 passed second reading in the Senate and Bill C-223 was debated in the House of Commons this week.

"It’s paid to those who need it regardless of their residency status and on a reliable basis so they can budget with that and live a life of dignity," said Wil Robertson, co-chair of Basic Income Ottawa.

A universal basic income pilot project was briefly introduced in Ontario, before it was cut by the Progressive Conservatives shortly after coming to power in 2018.

"A lot of folks particularly with the pilot here, started a business or went back to school or retrained to go into another job, so there’s a lot of really positive impacts here," said Robertson.

But critics say such a program just isn’t realistic.

"We’ve seen the PBO (Parliamentary Budget Office) put out a report saying it could cost anywhere from $30 to $70 billion in the first year," said Gage Haubrich, Prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"We don’t think it’s something the federal government can afford right now. It would come back and end up with increased taxes and cost to taxpayers."

The church has held a number of information sessions to raise awareness of the issue and say they plan to send members of their delegation to a universal basic income forum later this month.

"We are looking to encourage politicians at all levels of government to support a basic income," Busby said.

"We need funding at the federal level, but then we need it to coordinate at the provincial level because the services flow through housing and transportation and social supports."

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