Mayors in Los Angeles, Atlanta and nine other U.S. cities said Monday they will work to launch universal basic income pilot programs, a growing sign that political leaders are beginning to take the idea of guaranteed income seriously in the wake of the pandemic.
The mayors of Los Angeles; Oakland, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Tacoma, Washington, Newark, New Jersey; Saint Paul, Minnesota; Jackson, Mississippi; Compton, California; Shreveport, Louisiana and Stockton, California, have joined Mayors For A Guaranteed Income, a coalition advocating for UBI policies, or the idea of giving out recurring cash payments to all individuals without any strings attached.
Mayors For A Guaranteed Income was founded by Michael Tubbs, the 29-year-old mayor of Stockton who launched one of the first guaranteed income pilots in the U.S. last year, along with the Economic Security Project, a non-profit supporting the idea of creating an income floor for all Americans.
Though the coalition will advocate collectively for a guaranteed income and share information, each city will launch their own pilot with separate funding streams, either by creating a working group to find room in the city budget or by forming public/private partnerships, Tubbs told Forbes.
Tubbs said the pandemic and the unrest caused by the death of George Floyd, who was allegedly apprehended for using a counterfeit $20 bill before he was killed, pushed him to announce the coalition now.
“It’s taken COVID-19 where direct cash payments are part of the solution offered by the federal government, so I just thought the time was right to organize mayors around the idea because we live in a time of pandemics,” Tubbs said. “If it’s not COVID-19 this year, it’ll be an earthquake next year, a hurricane the year after or fire. Folks need to build economic resilience in our cities now.”
When Tubbs announced Stockton’s program in 2017, which gives $500 monthly to 125 residents, it garnered attention from the media and other politicians as one of the first serious UBI tests in the U.S. The 18 month pilot—which began doling out money in February 2019—ended in June, but was renewed earlier this month until January 2021. Tubbs said the program has been beneficial, with most recipients spending money on groceries and utility bills. Anecdotally, Tubbs said, the $500 was a lifeline for people waiting for coronavirus unemployment assistance. One recipient was able to take unpaid time off from an hourly position to interview for another job with more benefits, Tubbs added.
Guaranteed income has a long history dating back to political theorist Thomas Paine, who in 1797 proposed a form of a lump sum granted to all citizens. Martin Luther King Jr. also supported the idea in his fight to eradicate poverty. More recently, researchers in the U.S., Finland, Kenya, Canada and the Netherlands have begun conducting their own small scale UBI pilot programs. But the once-far-fetched policy has gotten mainstream attention amid the pandemic after Congress seriously debated the idea of giving regular direct cash payments to Americans. “I think the pandemic exposed just how fragile the economic underpinnings of our society are,” Tubbs said. “COVID-19 has put us in the midst of another Great Depression which necessitates bold, New Deal-type investments in our people and our social safety net.”