While guaranteed income experiments are nothing new, 2021 seems to be the year they are gaining more traction than ever. At least 11 cities in the United States are implementing pilot programs to offer direct cash payments to vulnerable citizens, Bloomberg CityLab reported.
Also known as Universal Basic Income (UBI), the programs will be implemented in places like Pittsburgh, Compton, etc. An additional 20 mayors have also expressed the possibility of launching UBI pilots in the future.
“We are at a moment right now where city leaders, residents, policymakers and activists are all looking for big ideas to begin to chip away at some glaring structural problems in our systems and institutions,” Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director of the National League of Cities’ Center for City Solutions, told Bloomberg. “This new wave of pilots is different because of the groundswell of support for guaranteed income we are seeing in cities across America.”
Most guaranteed income experiments distribute a set amount of cash payments monthly. The most notable UBI experiment took place in Stockton, California, beginning in 2019. A brainchild of then-Mayor Michael Tubbs (who lost his re-election bid in 2020), the program ran through the end of last year. It offered 125 residents $500 per month for 18 months.
Though he lost his re-election, Tubbs formed and still leads Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. Through it, the nearly 30 mayors who are members hope to run guaranteed income experiments in their cities and ultimately get a UBI program implemented at the federal level.
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“We need a social safety net that goes beyond conditional benefits tied to employment, works for everyone and begins to address the call for racial and economic justice through a guaranteed income,” Tubbs said.
Another guaranteed income experiment, the Magnolia Mothers Trust – which offered 20 low-income Black mothers in Jackson, Mississippi a $1,000 per month – had end-results that underscored the argument UBI programs help recipients become more successful. According to Bloomberg:
“After a year-long pilot starting in December 2018 with 20 women, some takeaways emerged: Three-quarters of the participants were able to give their families three meals a day, and collectively, they paid off $10,000 in debt. The women said they worried less, and were more hopeful about their futures. In 2020, the program started its second round, expanding to include at least 110 different mothers in Jackson.”
As for critics who say just giving people money with no accountability or restrictions attached is problematic, St. Paul Minnesota Mayor Melvin Carter said in many instances such thinking is rooted in racism.
“This space is full of racist tropes about what ‘those people’ will do if you give them money,” added Carter. “None of them are based in fact, statistics or real data. We have the opportunity to disprove some of those.”
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