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When Kameko Charles and her husband Vaughn Luis found out about LA’s universal basic income (UBI) pilot program, “BIG: LEAP,” they happily signed up for the extra $1,000 per month that the city would give them for a year. That money would pay for a more reliable car, glasses for Luis, diapers, birthday parties for their five children, and more. Then it ran out in April. Now, life without the extra funds is difficult.
“I can’t afford [new] glasses any more. So I gotta stick with the ones that I have,”
says Luis, whose diabetes requires changes to his prescription at least twice a year. “But I’ll be honest, I can’t use them.”
He says his kids have asked when they will take a trip to the beach again, and he has to tell them that with the “BIG: LEAP” funds gone, “we can’t do it right now because we can’t afford it again.”
In recent years, more than 40 UBI pilot programs like this one have cropped up throughout California. And while research about their long-term impacts remains limited, Stanford Basic Income Lab Director Sean Kline says for some participants they’ve talked to, the extra funds have been life-changing.
“We’ve seen a whole range of positive indications among those participants, including increased employment … reduced income volatility, improved health and well-being, reduced depression and anxiety,” says Kline. “And importantly, more goal-setting and risk-taking such as applying for a new job to improve your status in life.”
But because many of these pilots are starting at the local level, they can’t always scale up to meet the full needs of their beneficiaries. And eventually, most come to an end.
“Because these local government pilots are starting out, they’re kind of working through the kinks and implementation issues. Obviously, at a state level or federal level implementation, it’d be different,” says Kline.
Kameko Charles says that since the funds have been gone, their car has almost been repossessed twice, and they’ve had to turn to others for help. “We struggle day by day, there are even times where I have to go and ask family members: ‘Can you help us? Our car is about to get taken. … We need diapers. … Can you help us out with some food?’ It’s a struggle. It’s hard right now.”
The only follow-up they say they’ve received from “BIG: LEAP” since the program ended is in the form of email surveys. “I take the survey and at the end of the survey, they’ll give me a $50 gift card to either Target or WalMart, which helps because it will come in handy for the diapers or the wipes, that’s about it,” shares Charles.
Kline says that he sees the proliferation of these pilots across the state as a largely positive development overall. They’ve been instrumental in teaching both researchers and officials about what having a robust safety net and economic floor can do for California’s most at-risk individuals.
But it remains to be seen what will become of these findings.
“I think what many of us are asking now is where do we go from here? Is there scope for these many, many pilots and all the learning that’s coming from them to translate into larger state and federal policy, or at least inform existing long-standing policies at the federal level?” says Kline.
And what would Charles say to the people behind “BIG: LEAP,” given the opportunity? “If they can continue it, because it really helps, every little penny helps. … I noticed that they did the program, but for youth, and that was for three years. And I was like, ‘God, I wish that was us,’” she says.