Ithaca’s guaranteed basic income pilot program will distribute monthly cash to 110 caregivers

By Zoë Freer-Hessler

Original article:

ITHACA, N.Y.—In collaboration with Mayors for Guaranteed Income, Human Service Coalition of Tompkins County (HSCTC) and others, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick announced Ithaca Guaranteed Income (IGI), a privately funded research pilot program currently guaranteed to last only one year.

Eligibility for this pilot program includes caregivers “defined broadly to include people who spend significant unpaid time caring for children (including parents) or caring for an aging or disabled adult either in or out of their home,” with income at 80 percent of the area’s median income (AMI) who live within the City of Ithaca. Any individual within a household can apply if they meet the application criteria, but participation is still limited to 110 individuals.

Once enrolled, each participant will receive an unconditional $450 monthly cash payment with no strings attached for the duration of the program—which is one year to start with. Guaranteed income programs aren’t unheard of in the United States, with a prominent study ongoing in Stockton, California, and universal basic income (which several countries around the world have tested in some form) has emerged as a second- or third-tier political issue for progressives, highlighted by Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang during the 2020 primary.

“Research from other communities show us that recipients of cash transfer programs, overwhelmingly, use that money on basic needs,” Myrick said. “Housing, education, unexpected medical costs, et cetera. Our group feels we can trust the people to make their own financial choices.”

Myrick said that he believes the entire country could benefit if guaranteed income programs were enacted federally, citing pandemic stimulus checks as an example that he said reduced barriers to basic needs for families and stimulated the economy.

“When we help people directly, they’re going to know how to spend it on the things they need,” Myrick added. “We’ve seen it anecdotally and in practice.”

Myrick said that other benefits like Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) may be affected, but only in situations where the additional $450 payment bumps an individual into a higher bracket that is no longer eligible for those benefits.

“We recognize that it does have an effect on those benefits,” Liddy Bargar, director of housing initiatives at HSCTC, said at a meeting of the Human Services Coalition last week. “SSI [Supplemental Security Income] is the only benefit that this is completely incompatible with.”

Bargar said previously that other places with guaranteed income programs have reported a potential loss of SNAP benefits for participants, but that the cash benefit outweighs that loss. 

The application website will include a calculator to help determine what benefits might be negated if the individual participated in IGI. Additionally, this payment amount is considered “gifting income” by the IRS and subsequently will not be taxed.

The application for IGI can be found here and will be open from Dec. 10–17, 2021. Individuals who need help applying can visit the Tompkins County Public Library.

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