Guaranteed basic income programs are spreading across the US

Guaranteed basic income programs are facing funding and legal challenges despite limited success in some regions of the country.

More than 100 of the pilot programs have been launched since 2018 and have been lauded by some as a popular plan to deliver low-income participants up to $1,000 a month. But along with some success, there have been challenges as some cities implementing the GBI pilots have seen funds dissipate and other hurdles that threaten the programs.

Former Stockton, California Mayor Michael D. Tubbs is president of the Mayors for Guaranteed Income, an organization comprised of a coalition of 150 mayors advocating for the pilot GBI programs.

“American voters support a guaranteed income, including 40% of Republicans,” he recently told  Fox News Digital, noting how members of both political parties are facing financial struggles.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, the program seemed to make a positive impact as the Cambridge Community Foundation reported in March that the 130 families who were allotted $500 a month for 18 months showed “significant improvements in financial health, higher rates of employment, increased time and space for parenting, and improved educational outcomes for children.”

To qualify, Cambridge residents had to be 18 and older and their income had to be below 80% of the area median income. In addition, recipients had to be a single caregiver with at least one child under the age of 18.

“The money for the pilot program came from philanthropists. The city’s new cash assistance program, Rise Up Cambridge, is giving $500 a month to roughly 2,000 families living at or below 250% of the federal poverty level using American Rescue Plan Act funds,” CBS News reported, referring to COVID-19 relief finds which are drying up.

In Texas, the city of Austin began to use tax dollars to fund GBI programs with Austin’s city council greenlighting a $1.3 million contract in April.

“The guaranteed income program received $1.1 million in taxpayer funding and an additional amount of over $500,000 raised in philanthropic donations for the program when it started,” Fox News reported. “A recent survey showed that the city’s guaranteed income program helped address the problem of housing insecurity in the city.”

Elsewhere in the state, the Supreme Court in Texas halted an effort in Harris County to launch a similar program after Attorney General Ken Paxton and state lawmaker Rep. Paul Betten protested over constitutional concerns.

“Local governments exist in part to help the less fortunate among us, and the Supreme Court’s ruling effectively ends a program that has proven to be highly successful at allowing lower income folks to lift themselves out of poverty,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said of the court’s decision which Paxton labeled, “plainly unconstitutional.”

Cook County in Illinois; Wayne County in Michigan; and Los Angeles County in California have also launched pilot GBI programs.

In Phoenix, Arizona, a GBI program used $12 million of federal COVID relief funds to launch a program in 2022 giving $1,000 a month to 1,000 low-income families.

The Financial Assistance for Phoenix Families Program required that participants earn less than 80% of the median income in the city of $63,200, according to a report at the time.

In March of this year, the Arizona House of Representatives voted on House Bill 2375 prohibiting guaranteed-basic-income programs in the state. Despite being approved unanimously by Republicans, not one Democrat voted in favor of the bill which still has to pass through the state Senate.

While former mayor Tubbs admitted Stockton’s small size and limited budget meant implementing a GBI program was not practical, he believes the data generated from testing it could prove valuable in convincing federal and state governments to move ahead with the idea.

“No city can do a guaranteed income at scale because we can’t deficit spend. A guaranteed income at scale has to be done by the federal government, much like we saw with the child tax credit,” Tubbs said.

“And that’s been an argument we’ve been making the whole time, but, we can’t wait for the federal government. And oftentimes we have to inspire and push the federal government to act,” he added.

Frieda Powers

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