Proposal would bar universal basic income programs in Iowa

Proposal would bar universal basic income programs in Iowa
Proposal would bar universal basic income programs in Iowa

By Erin Murphy

See original post here.

DES MOINES — Calling taxpayer-funded basic income programs “insane,” “socialism on steroids” and “an attack on American values,” a pair of Republican state lawmakers on Thursday advanced legislation that would prohibit such programs in Iowa.

Universal basic income programs dedicate monthly funds to low-income individuals. The programs are designed to lift people out of poverty by providing them with a baseline and steady source of income.

One such program is operating in central Iowa — UpLift, a pilot project of Mid-Iowa Health Foundation in Des Moines. Under that project, 110 low-income central Iowans were chosen to receive $500 per month for two years. The impact of that basic income on those participants will be studied.

Iowa House Republicans Steve Holt, from Denison, and Skyler Wheeler, from Hull, expressed their strong opposition to universal basic income programs during a legislative hearing Thursday on a bill, introduced by Holt, that would prohibit any city or county in Iowa from operating a guaranteed income program.

“I’m going to tell you right now: This is socialism on steroids. This is a redistribution of wealth. This is an attack on American values,” said Holt, a retired Marine.

Added Wheeler, “I think this is insane, creates more reliance on government, takes from hardworking taxpayers (and) it gives to those that are not.”

Holt and Wheeler both said a universal basic income program would create an incentive for people to stay home and not work, which they said goes against American ideals and comes at a time when Iowa’s workforce has shrunk since the pandemic, leaving employers looking to fill jobs.

“This is an attack on the work ethic in this country, when we already are struggling,” Holt said. “Every business owner I speak to is struggling to find employees that are willing to work, that will show up for more than a day or two. Part of this, in my judgment, is because of the multitude of entitlement programs that now allow able-bodied individuals to not work. And this is yet another example of that.”

Alaska experience

Only one statewide guaranteed income program is offered in the United States — in Alaska, which, since 1976, has had a program funded by its oil and gas revenue.

According to a 2016 study by the University of Alaska-Anchorage, since the program started, poverty in the state has fallen by 20%, obesity has fallen by 5%, and the state is experiencing better health and childbirth outcomes.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2018 showed the program had no impact on full-time employment levels in the state, and part-time employment levels have increased.

Impact on poverty

Nalo Johnson, president and CEO of the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, spoke at Thursday’s legislative hearing to provide information on UpLift.

“We’re interested in cost-effective policies and programs that address poverty in our communities, and also support a healthier, more consistent workforce, both of which we believe are hallmarks of a thriving community,” said Johnson, who previously worked for Johnson County Public Health.

“One of the things that we’re particularly interested in are the ways in which the basic income is shown not only to provide economic stability within a family, but really support the economic vitality of a community because of the ways in which those dollars are circulated locally within the local businesses.”

The UpLift pilot program is being funded by public, private, charity and nonprofit entities. Among the funding sources are Polk County and the cities of Des Moines, Urbandale and Windsor Heights, as well as United Way of Central Iowa, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Principal.

Not convinced

In the end, Holt and Wheeler remained defiantly unconvinced.

“It is my judgment, based upon history and human nature, that in many ways you’re going to increase poverty and increase government dependence when you are fostering dependence on government, as opposed to independence and hard work,” Holt said.

“And that is what this program, in my judgment, is all about. If I have anything to do with it, no programs like this are going to start in the state of Iowa, or are going to be allowed to continue in the state of Iowa.”

Holt and Wheeler signed off on advancing the legislation, House Study Bill 552, while Democratic Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, of Ames, opposed it. The bill becomes eligible for consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, which Holt chairs.

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