June 30, 2020; ABC 10 (Stockton, CA)
COVID-19 has worsened the prospects of many low-income people, causing job losses on a massive scale. A new coalition of US mayors has emerged to advance the notion that what poor people need most in order to improve their own welfare is one simple thing—cash.
ABC News reports that 10 mayors of American cities have pledged to join Stockton, California, in instituting and advocating universal basic income (UBI) programs. Mayor Michael Tubbs’s Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (the SEED Project) is built on the assumption that poverty flows from a lack of cash rather than a deficit of character.
Stockton’s pilot provides $500 each month for 18 months to 125 people to see if doing so allows people to improve their own living situations. Some of the other new initiatives up the ante with higher payments and efforts to move state and national policy toward UBI.
In terms of how a basic income floor would be paid for, their website explains:
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Budgets are moral documents, and it’s time for the US government to prioritize everyday Americans and their economic dignity. There’s a number of ways to pay for guaranteed income, from a sovereign wealth fund in which citizens benefit from shared national resources like the Alaska Permanent Fund, to bringing tax rates on the wealthiest Americans to their 20th century historical averages.
Although not mentioned on the website, another mechanism that has often been mentioned as a funding vehicle for a universal basic income are carbon taxes. Such “cap and dividend” policies could both fund needed Green New Deal infrastructure and support greater economic equality.
Declaring their initiative “our New Deal moment,” Mayors for a Guaranteed Income includes, along with Tubbs:
- Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles, CA)
- Libby Schaaf (Oakland, CA)
- Aja Brown (Compton, CA)
- Keisha Lance Bottoms (Atlanta, GA)
- Ras J. Baraka (Newark, NJ)
- Chokwe Antar Lumumba (Jackson, MS)
- Melvin Carter (St. Paul, MN)
- Adrian Perkins (Shreveport, LA)
- Stephen Benjamin (Columbia, SC)
- Victoria R. Woodards (Tacoma, WA)
Some of the local initiatives they are proposing, according to ABC News, include:
- The city of Newark’s call for a pilot on guaranteed income.
- In 2018, Lumumba showed support for the private, non-government program Magnolia Mother’s Trust, which gives $1,000 a month to Black mothers living in subsidized housing.
- At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Carter provided $1,000 grants for over 1,000 families.
- Also in response to the pandemic, Garcetti started the Angeleno Campaign, which is intended to help low-income residents, with as much as $1,500 being provided to families. To date, over $10 million has been raised from private donations for the program.
- In Compton, Mayor Brown, in a partnership with the nonprofit Give Directly, plans to distribute $1,000 to families in need.
It is notable that these initiatives are being launched even as calls for a reorganization of budgets to defund the police are made. This may fly in the face of many neoliberal policies based on assumptions about the “damaged poor” who cannot make decisions for themselves and so need to be “served” by others who mete out a few dollars for housing here or a food box there. This charitable framework is unsurprisingly experienced by many as humiliating, and indeed much of the nonprofit sector has been built around such models rather than advocating for living wages in the midst of plenty. Maybe it is time for that to change.—Ruth McCambridge