Policy Corner | March 25, 2021

Spurred by stimulus checks, guaranteed income gains steam as an anti-poverty policy

Dennis Price
ImpactAlpha Editor

Dennis Price

ImpactAlpha, Mar. 25 – Dozens of mayors across the U.S. have committed to piloting guaranteed income programs that put regular, no-strings-attached cash payments into the hands of low-income residents. The programs, some launched pre-pandemic, are finding new acceptance as direct checks and unemployment payments became popular signature policies of the bipartisan response to COVID-19.

  • The latest: Oakland will launch a guaranteed income pilot this spring with 600 Black, Indigenous or other families of color. Families in the program must have at least one child and make less than the area medium wage, or $59,000. Each will receive $500 monthly payments. “Poverty is not a personal failure, it is a policy failure,” says Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
  • Evidence base. The Oakland program comes on the heels of positive results out of a similar pilot in Stockton, Calif., just 70 miles east of Oakland. Residents that received monthly checks from the first-of-its-kind program, launched by then-Mayor Michael Tubbs in 2017, were more likely to find full-time employment, be financially stable and improve overall well-being, according to a study released last month. In Jackson, Miss., a guaranteed income program designed by Black moms for Black moms is also showing early positive results, according to a Next City report.
  • National ambitions. Oakland’s Schaaf is a founding member of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a coalition founded by Tubbs to advocate for the policy nationwide. The goal: not to expand the policy at the local level, but to build an evidence base and pressure the federal government to adopt the policy nationally. Schaaf, whose program is backed by private foundations, told the Washington Post, “The federal government is the only one that can provide an entitlement to meet whatever need there is.”