What is Hartford’s basic income pilot program and when will it start?

By: Jonah Dylan

HARTFORD — The city is moving forward with a planned universal basic income pilot program, but it likely won’t start until at least 2023, according to officials working on the project.

The project started when the City Council voted to create a task force that would research and submit a report about the feasibility of executing a UBI program in the city. The task force ultimately sent that report back to the city in December, and the project has since been in a planning phase.

The task force was chaired by David Grant, who worked in the council president’s office until this summer. Grant — who is no longer involved with the project — said there were two major areas that needed to be addressed before it could move forward.

The first is to identify a community partner in Hartford that would run the program, with consistent oversight and infrastructure to respond to issues or questions from participants. While there are plenty of community-based organizations in Hartford, it’s been a challenge to find one that is prepared for this type of program, he said.

The other aspect is the research. One of the main drawing points of the entire program is to gather research on how a UBI program affects the people involved — not just how they spend the money, but the impact of having more financial security on other aspects of their lives. A group of researchers are still working to outline what the program should look like and setting up an Institutional Review Board, a pillar of social science research.

Gina Rosich, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Saint Joseph, was part of the initial task force and is still a key part of the planning for the program. Rosich said research has supported a “strong planning stage” for a UBI program like this, so it makes sense that it’s taking time to get going.

UBI programs guarantee participants a certain income, which proponents say helps alleviate poverty and improve mental health while serving as a replacement for need-based social programs. The task force recommended an initial program for 25 people who are single, working and primary caregivers with at least one child entering third to eighth grade.

“I really do believe this could be transformative,” Grant said.

“We’re talking about something that could break generational poverty.”

The task force’s report outlines the past success of limited guaranteed income programs around the country and argues for the program to be enacted in Hartford, which ranks last in income in Connecticut.

“Hartford has a unique opportunity to serve its most vulnerable citizens, to be a city leader in support of its residents, and to be a model for other U.S. cities in the development of financial freedom programs,” the task force wrote. “In developing a pilot program, the Hartford Court of Common Council can critically examine the impact of an unconditional extra source of income on various aspects of child, parent and household wellbeing, each of which is likely affected by chronic stress brought on by income insecurity.”

There have not been any major developments since the task force submitted its report to City Council in December. Grant said they’d initially targeted the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, but that was pushed back to the beginning of 2023 and probably later as the planning phase continues.

“Children do better when parents are less stressed about money,” Rosich said. “This is a way of saying we actually trust the decision making of people who are financially vulnerable.”

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