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Oakland Gets Its Universal Basic Income (Pilot Program) On!
The city of Oakland, California, will be launching a basic income program this spring, paying residents $500 a month for 18 months in a pilot program aimed at addressing income inequality for some 600 families. They won't have to work, be in school, or listen to any sermons to qualify, either. No strings attached, just another program aimed at showing that when you give poor people some extra money, it doesn't destroy their will to work or feed bad behavior; it mostly just makes them less poor.
Oakland's program will be modeled on a similar experiment that was tried in Stockton that just ended in February. It will be the largest basic income program yet tried in the US, and unlike previous pilot programs, it will focus specifically on addressing the racial wealth gap, too. Participation will be limited to Black, Indigenous, or other people of color; the Associated Press explains that's because
White households in Oakland on average make about three times as much annually as black households, according to the Oakland Equity Index. It's also a nod to the legacy of the Black Panther Party, the political movement that was founded in Oakland in the 1960s.
Intentional or not, that ought to serve to really troll rightwing pundits, too, whether or not that's listed in in the formal grant proposal.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced the new "Oakland Resilient Families" program yesterday, saying,
Our vision is an Oakland that has closed the racial wealth gap and where all families thrive [...] We believe that guaranteed income is the most transformative policy that can achieve this vision and whose time has come.
Schaaf also said the Oakland program is intended to encourage the federal government to adopt a national basic income program, an idea that seems to have finally escaped from think tanks into actual state and local governmental pilot programs.
The Oakland program will be open to families of color with at least one child under the age of 18, and who make incomes at or below 50% of the median income for the Oakland area. (A qualifying income is roughly $59,000 per year for a family of three.) Half the slots in the program will be given to folks whose incomes are less than 138 percent of the federal poverty rate, or $30,000 per year for that family of three. Participants will be chosen at random from the pool of qualified applicants.
The program will be paid for with private donations through the national group Blue Meridian Partners, which sounds like it could also be a hedge fund, a legal cannabis distributor, an anime production company, or a manufacturer of sex toys. Maybe all four.
So far, it's raised more than $6.7 million and about 80% of those funds are going into the hands of residents. The Family Independence Initiative, a national nonprofit based in Oakland focused on fighting poverty, will run the program and it will begin with East Oakland residents before opening applications to other parts of the city.
Jesús Gerena, the CEO of Family Independence Initiative, said the program will first target East Oakland because it has the "highest concentration of eligible families" and is one of the worst COVID-19 hot spots in the Bay Area.
Gerena also told the AP that "Guaranteed income has been a goal of the Black Panther platform since its founding," so he is definitely on our list of the cool nonprofit operators.
The program should start getting checks to the first 300 participants this spring, with the other 300 families starting to get funds by the summer, Schaaf said.
The AP also points out that back in the fabulous '70s, the Nixon administration experimented with guaranteed basic income, in pilot projects run by two of the biggest squares you can imagine:
Republicans Donald Rumsfeld, later a defense secretary, and Dick Cheney, the future vice president, oversaw four programs across the country during the Nixon administration.
Those studies concluded the money did not stop people from working, causing Nixon to recommend expanding the program. But it never got through Congress.
We guess Cheney and Rumsfeld didn't inhale. Too bad; they should've.
Now, in the wake of the pandemic, universal basic income's time may be closer, if not altogether here just yet. The pilot program in Stockton, which also gave participants $500 a month, didn't lead to people just lazying around all day, either. Instead, the AP story notes, "an independent review found that after one year of getting the money, 40% of recipients had full-time jobs compared with 28% before the program started." Guess having a bit more certainty about basic needs — and money to weather the millions of small crisis that can upend your life when you're poor — can actually help people become taxpayers, too.
The problem, of course, is scaling such programs up from a successful pilot. The annual cost of the basic income program proposed by Andrew Yang in the 2020 presidential primary would have been roughly $2.8 trillion.
But here's an encouraging idea: We can find the money, when politicians are willing to afflict the comfortable just a little:
In California, a proposal by Assemblyman Evan Low to give $1,000 a month to adults with certain incomes could cost up to $129 billion annually — more than half the state's total budget — paid for by a new 1% tax on incomes above $2 million. Low said that bill is unlikely to pass this year, but he said his goal is to get people comfortable with the idea.
Hell, if Mitt Romney can go from mocking half the people in the economy as moochers to supporting a generous allowance for families with children, maybe guaranteed income isn't too crazy an idea to get some traction.
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