Cambridge, Massachusetts to provide a basic income of $500 a month to 120 residents for 18 months

By: Jackson Cote |

As the debate over the idea of universal basic income continues across the country, the city of Cambridge is set to launch a program providing $500 a month to more than 100 residents.

The city’s Guaranteed Income Pilot Initiative will administer the recurring payments to 120 of the community’s most vulnerable residents for more than 18 months, WHDH reported. The checks will go out to single caretaker households with children under the age of 18.

The pilot program will look at the guaranteed income program’s long-term impact on local and national economic policy as well.

Calls for providing people with a guaranteed income have ramped up over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken a monumental economic toll on so many Americans and created unemployment levels unmatched since the Great Depression.

While some have argued against Congress issuing more stimulus checks to Americans, others in the federal government, including U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have fought for more regular direct payments. The two Democratic lawmakers have pushed President Joe Biden for $2,000 monthly checks to be sent out to citizens to help get them through the crisis.

“This crisis is far from over, and families deserve certainty that they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads,” the senators and 19 other lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Democratic president in March.

On Dec. 14, the Cambridge City Council adopted an order supporting the efforts of Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui for a guaranteed income and ongoing, direct cash payments throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis until the economy recovers.

“The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has impacted every American’s life in one way or another, leading to a historic loss of jobs while also exposing pre-existing issues in local, state and federal economic systems,” the order stated.

Prior to the pandemic, nearly 40% of Americans could not afford a single $400 emergency. Rising income inequality is also compounded by an ever-growing racial wealth divide, the city council’s resolution noted.

The council cited research from the Institute for Policy Studies showing a growing racial wealth gap, with the median white worker making 28% more on average than the median Black worker and 35% more than the median Latino worker in the last quarter of 2019. The median wealth of white families is more than $100,000, while the median wealth of black families is approximately $10,000.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these wealth gaps across race and gender, disproportionally affecting people of color,” the council wrote in its resolution.

In order to address these inequalities, a coalition of mayors throughout the country, from Oakland, California to Gainseville, Florida, committed to advocating in favor of cash-based guaranteed income policies. Siddiqui and former Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse were two of the chief city executives around the nation that launched the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income in July 2020. The coalition was funded in part through $3 million in seed money from Jack Dorsey, the founder and CEO of Twitter.

“We are in the middle of the greatest economic and technological transformation in the history of our country, yet millions of families continue to be left behind by an antiquated and unjust economic system,” Morse said at the time.

Regular payments, the Cambridge City Council asserted, have shown to be more effective than unemployment benefits for families of color.

“Providing an income floor that would support families during this economic and public health crisis will benefit those individuals receiving ongoing cash assistance and the community at large,” the council added.

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