Denver’s basic income pilot secured new funding from mayor after coalition of advocacy groups lobbied for it to continue

Denver's basic income pilot secured new funding from Mayor Mike Johnson after a coalition of advocacy groups lobbied for it to continue.

Denver's basic income pilot secured new funding from mayor after coalition of advocacy groups lobbied for it to continue
Denver's basic income pilot secured new funding from mayor after coalition of advocacy groups lobbied for it to continue

By Roshan Abraham

See original post here.

A basic income pilot in Denver will continue into its second year after Mayor Mike Johnson committed $2 million following pressure from groups advocating for labor, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and immigrants. 

The program, called the Denver Basic Income Project, is one of more than 20 initiatives launched by city governments in U.S. during the pandemic that provided some form of guaranteed income, usually to a specific community with financial challenges. Denver’s program focused on its unhoused population.

In 2022, the city agreed to pay $12,000 to unhoused people over 12 months. They received the money in different increments, and one cohort only received $600 over the course of the year. A report released in October showed the program ended with 807 participants.

The Denver Basic Income Project was initially funded through $2 million of CARES Act dollars and $2 million of city funding and administered by a nonprofit called Impact Charitable. Johnston initially rejected a proposal from the city council to renew the program in a mid-year budget adjustment, instead opting to fund it through individual donors and philanthropies. But a coalition of advocates including unhoused people and disability advocates led him to change his mind, and he agreed to chip in $2 million for the program last month. (The council, it’s worth noting, asked for $4 million.)

A coalition of about 20 groups advocated for the funding, including SEIU Local 105, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and Center for People With Disabilities. Advocates attended weekly city council meetings for 12 weeks wearing the color green (for money) and using the public comment period to praise the program.

“The Denver Guaranteed Income Coalition worked together to rally outside the Colorado state capitol, execute a 40-person public comment takeover at a city council meeting, send hundreds of emails to newly elected Mayor Johnston and city council members, and phone bank which resulted in over 2000 calls to Denver residents and subsequently dozens of calls to city council members,” Samantha Hart, communications manager with Community Change said in an email.

The basic income project is open to Denver residents experiencing homelessness, and the coalition supported including people overrepresented in the homeless population, even if they are not unhoused themselves. Hillary Jorgensen, co-executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, said her organization came out to support because 63 percent of the city’s unhoused population has one or more disabilities, and nearly half the people in the pilot identify as having a disability. 

“Our community is disproportionately represented among those who are unhoused,” she said, citing discrimination in hiring and lack of access to healthcare as reasons why. Many disabled people rely on Social Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI), federal forms of cash assistance that are either means-tested or come with bureaucratic challenges. By design, guaranteed income is meant to be unrestricted, easy to access and with no qualifications on how money is spent.

“They require us to live in poverty or near poverty,” Jorgensen said of federal cash payment programs. “Our community often doesn’t have a lot of opportunities when something bad happens to get stabilized.”

She compared basic income to what she views as more paternalistic government programs that place restrictions on when disabled people can receive money. “The foundation of the disability rights movement is self-determination,” she said. “We know when people are allowed to make choices about how to spend money to get what they need, there are better outcomes.”

After the support campaigns, Mayor Johnston wrote an October 23 letter to Mark Donovan, who founded Denver Basic Income Project in 2021, affirming his support for the program as a tool for reducing homelessness, saying it gave people “the financial resources they need to find stable housing and work toward self-sufficiency.” He said the initiative “complements our efforts to expand affordable housing, mental health services, and other critical resources to prevent and alleviate homelessness in Denver.”

A report released in October looked at the program’s success at the six-month mark and found that recipients were more likely to be housed than when the program started and that there were decreases in the number of people sleeping in shelters. In two of the groups studied, the amount of people working full-time increased, and in the third group—where people only received $600—it remained the same.

Homelessness in Denver increased by 32 percent in 2022, growing from 6,884 unhoused people in January 2022 to 9,065 in January 2023, according to a recent report. This year, there has been a spike in eviction filings statewide, leading the legislature to approve $30 million in emergency rental assistance and the city of Denver to approve another $29 million for its residents. There were 10,849 eviction filings in Denver County this year, the highest number since the 2008 financial crisis.

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