California’s Long Beach City Council to vote on the first step to create a UBI program

Mayor Robert Garcia (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)


Should the Long Beach government give monthly cash payments to its residents?

That’s a question the City Council will answer at its Tuesday, Sept. 1, meeting, when the panel is set to weigh a proposal from Mayor Robert Garcia to begin the process of seeking funding for a universal basic income initiative.

The idea of a universal basic income — popularized by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who ran on a platform of providing a “freedom dividend” of $1,000 per month to every American adult — is to reduce inequality and allow people to pursue education, health care and better employment.

Supporters say it would materially improve the lives of millions — particularly those living in poverty — and boost the economy overall. Critics, meanwhile, say it would be an expensive program that wouldn’t have much of an impact.

But there’s little evidence for how a universal basic income program would work in the U.S., or what impacts it would have, because so few cities have tried it.

There are, though, some examples. Stockton, in California’s Central Valley, began giving 125 residents $500 per month in February 2019. Researchers overseeing the program tracked how the money was spent and found that nearly 40% of it went to food, followed by sales and merchandise, utility bills, and auto repairs and fuel.

“In this country we have an issue with associating people who are struggling economically and people of color with vices like drug use, alcohol use, gambling,” Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs said when the data was released.

“I thought it was important to illustrate folks aren’t using this money for things like that. They are using it for literal necessities.”

Now, there’s a slate of other mayors — including Garcia — looking to follow Stockton’s lead.

Garcia announced last month that he joined leaders of 14 other cities in the organization Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. Other cities represented include Atlanta, Seattle, Newark, St. Paul, Oakland, Compton and Los Angeles.

A Compton spokesperson said that city’s mayor declined to comment.

On Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council will vote on whether to ask the City Attorney to draft a resolution in support of the initiative. The panel will also vote on whether to ask the City Manager to seek grants and private foundation support to fund a pilot program.

For Garcia, the timing is critical.

In a memo to the City Council, he wrote that the coronavirus pandemic and the recession it has caused has left too many residents without the means to pay for basic needs.

“Ongoing direct payments to individuals and families would help to start to address the inequalities being experienced across the country,” he wrote. “It would provide immediate relief to the recipients and help stimulate the economy. Long Beach would greatly benefit from these direct payments to all residents, and it would help those most in need.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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