Could a guaranteed basic income program be coming to Detroit?

Two of the newly elected Detroit City Council members have floated the idea of a guaranteed basic income for Detroiters living under the poverty line.

By Jim Kiertzner

Original article:

(WXYZ) — Two of the newly elected Detroit City Council members have floated the idea of a guaranteed basic income for Detroiters living under the poverty line.

Coleman A. Young II and Mary Waters are behind the idea that is spreading across the nation. Stockton, California was the first city to do this.

From January of 2019 to January 2021,125 people were given $500 a month, no strings attached. The test program shows promising results improving living conditions, and people moving to new and better jobs.

Other cities are starting their own program including Gary, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Richmond, Virginia.

It’s still an open question whether it’s going to happen here in Detroit, but it’s being discussed coast to coast.

“That cash has the ability to really release a bunch of potential for folks be it in terms of their mental and physical health or in terms of sort of their ability to gain and keep employment and so on,” said Sukhi Samara, executive director of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. 

We found local folks skeptical.

“It’s like a 50-50 thing, will people really do the right thing to get out of poverty?” asked Ronald Walker, who said she wasn’t sure if it would work.

Leshaunna Mdock says she is in favor of the idea: “Free money is a good idea. Get that money, y’all.”

In the first test program in Stockton, California, the money was given out in debit cards and tracked how it was spent.

  • 37 percent went for food
  • 22 percent other home needs, utilities and fixing up cars
  • Only 1 percent went for alcohol and tobacco

What’s happened since the money stopped?

“We’ll be releasing our full two years of data early next year. So, we’ll be able to answer exactly this question,” said Samra.

Two incoming to the Detroit City Council say it’s a good idea. Mary Waters declined an interview. The other councilmember-elect could get it going next year.

“I want to pay people, 125 people $500 a month for 18 months. I think these are just some of the things that we want to do,” said Coleman A. Young II.

We received the following statement from Mayor Duggan’s office:

“From 2015 until Covid struck, the poverty rate in Detroit dropped from 40% to 30%, helping 60,000 Detroiters to emerge from poverty. This was thanks in large part to the Mayor’s strategy of attracting major employers to the city and get Detroiters into good paying jobs. We are always open to discussing ways to further reduce poverty in Detroit, however we do not discuss council proposals until such time as they are drafted and presented.

The Mayor and City Council also recently committed $105 million in ARPA funds to expand job training and opportunities for Detroit residents as part the strategy to reduce intergenerational poverty.”

The organization that’s advocating for this nationally says that federal money is seed money for starting new programs.

“So we saw that in St. Paul, Minnesota. We saw that in Richmond, Virginia. We’re seeing that in Minneapolis as well,” said Samra.

Richie Zalmanowski, who sells energy drinks and does business in Detroit, says “people need help … I don’t mind paying it forward a little bit.

A pilot program is just starting in Gary, Indiana with 125 residents getting 500 bucks a month, for one year. The Mayors for a Guaranteed Income is giving Gary a half million dollars. The rest, is being raised through private donations.

“People really don’t want to live in poverty. People want to have a choice to come out of this thing,” said Burgess Peoples with the Gary, Indiana Guaranteed Income Validation Effort. 

The ultimate goal of everybody in favor of this is to make it go national on the federal level, a universal basic income.

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