Guaranteed basic income is not a new idea. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr raised the idea of low-income people receiving regular government checks in the 1960s. It was brought up again during the 2020 presidential campaign when Democratic candidate Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur technology, has made it an important part of its platform.
However, Yang was advocating for universal basic income (UBI), which guarantees payments to everyone.
The guaranteed basic income only targets people with low incomes.
According to Yang, some sort of guaranteed basic income program will be needed in the future when technology makes many jobs obsolete. A 2020 World Economic Forum study predicted that technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics would eliminate 85 million jobs by 2025. However, guaranteed basic income programs are gaining traction across California in as poverty reduction. Several cities are running pilot programs.
Los Angeles County is running a guaranteed basic income pilot program called Breathe. The program provides $1,000 to 1,000 LA County residents over a three-year period. The program will be evaluated by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Guaranteed Income Research Center.
Breathe is overseen by the county’s Poverty Reduction Initiative. 180,000 residents applied to participate in the program. In just one day during this process, 95,000 people submitted applications, according to a county news release.
To be eligible for Breathe funds, applicants had to be at least 18 years old, have a single-person household income of less than $56,000 or $96,000 for a family of four, and have experienced negative impacts due to COVID-19.
One of the motivations for the Breathe program was the COVID-19 pandemic, which laid bare issues of poverty and income inequality.
“The course of this pandemic has revealed the vast number of county residents who are living on the brink of financial crisis, with insufficient savings to meet a job loss, medical emergency, or major auto repair. This guaranteed income program will help give residents the respite they need to get through these crises better,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
Other Guaranteed Basic Income programs are being piloted in California.
Miracle Messages, an outreach program for homeless people in San Francisco, began testing a program called Miracle Money last year. Miracle Money provided $500 for the homeless. And the initial program seemed to be a success. According to Miracle Messages, around 50% of people in the test group were able to find housing after receiving the cash payments. Miracle Money was funded by a GoFundMe campaign.
Oakland Resilient Families is a Bay Area program that provides a $500 grant to families for 18 months. The program stresses that it is different from the universal basic income. “Guaranteed income is supposed to provide a floor income but should not replace salary. Guaranteed income can also be targeted to those who need it most,” according to the organization’s website. Oakland Resilient Families is funded by donations.
Mountain View, another Bay Area city, is implementing a new Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program called Elevate MV. The pilot program promises to give $500 a month for two years to 166 low-income families with at least one child or who are currently pregnant. Elevate MV is operated through the Community Services Agency, a non-profit organization.
In San Diego County, a guaranteed income pilot program was launched in March 2020. One hundred and fifty households with young children reside in one of the county’s four priority ZIP codes – Encanto, Paradise Hills, National City and San Ysidro – receive $500 a month for two years. The $2.9 million program is run by the Jewish Family Service of San Diego with funding from the Alliance Healthcare Foundation and the state budget surplus.
These programs, including LA County’s Breathe program, are modeled after a universal basic income program that was piloted in the city of Stockton. The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) provided $500 to 125 low-income residents for 24 months.
And research has shown that the SEED program works, according to an article by National Public Radio (NPR).
“Among the key findings outlined in a 25-page white paper are that unconditional money reduced the month-to-month fluctuations in income that households face, increased employment at full-time recipients by 12 percentage points and decreased their measurable feelings of anxiety. and depression, compared to their control group counterparts,” NPR said.
As Mayor of Stockton, Michael Tubbs launched the SEED program in 2019. Following the promising results of the pilot program, Tubbs launched in 2020 Mayors for Guaranteed Income, a coalition of 60 mayors advocating for a guaranteed income program to guarantee that all Americans have an income floor.
Tubbs lost his bid for re-election in 2020 and is now an adviser to Governor Gavin Newsom, a supporter of guaranteed income.