Cash payments for WA residents? Lawmakers propose trying out basic income program

Washington Democrats want to give 7,500 low-income state residents recurring cash payments for two years, no strings attached. 

Cash payments for WA residents? Lawmakers propose trying out basic income program
Cash payments for WA residents? Lawmakers propose trying out basic income program

By Grace Deng

See original post here.

The Evergreen Basic Income Pilot Program would pay qualifying participants a monthly amount equal to the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment where the participant lives. Fair market rent is a statistic used by government agencies and nonprofits that represents the cost of a moderately-priced rental home in a local housing market.

“At the end of the day, we all want the same things,” said Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent, lead sponsor of the bill. “We want a roof over our head, we want food in our pantry and we want our family to be safe and healthy.”

“But we know that is not the reality for many people in Washington state,” she said at a Tuesday committee hearing. 

Under Senate Bill 6196, participants are eligible if they’re a low-income adult or emancipated minor, a Washington resident and are experiencing a major life event associated with economic instability, such as homelessness, pregnancy, or exiting foster care. 

This is the third session where the Legislature has considered a basic income program. 

If the proposal is approved, the state wouldn’t be the first to test out temporary universal basic income. Studies of programs in cities across California, Texas, Colorado and other states have shown that guaranteed monthly payments can help lift people out of poverty and homelessness. 

There have been basic income programs in cities and counties in Washington, too, including Growing Resilience in Tacoma, or GRIT, where 110 households received $500 a month for a year. However, if the Evergreen Basic Income Pilot Program is enacted, Washington would become the first to try a guaranteed income experiment statewide. Oregon has considered a similar program. 

Washington’s proposed program aligns with a Department of Social and Health Services feasibility study which suggests that fallout from COVID-19, rising living costs, and other factors eroding economic stability for people in recent decades make the time ripe for such a program.

The report found that while the cost of providing universal basic income will outweigh benefits initially, the investment would have a “strong potential to yield a large return over time.” 

“We spend more money administering services and deciding whether or not people qualify for money than if we just handed it out,” said Cherish Cronmiller, representing housing assistance group Olympic Community Action Programs, during public testimony. 

Cronmiller said her organization just finished an 18-month basic income pilot program handing out $500 monthly payments to 20 households and has seen the benefits firsthand. 

Critics who testified against the bill said it would drain taxpayer resources and called it unfair to allow non-citizens, including undocumented residents, to apply. 

“Do you think no one lies to get no-strings-attached money?” said one testifier, Sharon Damoff. 

Research shows families who participate in basic income programs use the majority of their cash on basic needs, such as food and rent. There’s also evidence suggesting basic income pilots don’t decrease motivation to work and don’t increase spending on “temptation goods,” such as drugs and alcohol. 

Advocates for the wellbeing of children and families, as well as Olympia City Council, the Washington State Budget and Policy Center and the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics testified in support. 

Basic income programs are linked to improved mental health, fewer unplanned pregnancies and better student outcomes among the children of recipients.

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