Story at a glance
- Mayors for a Guaranteed Income is a coalition of 25 democratic mayors piloting universal income programs in their cities.
- The programs offer monthly cash payments to low-income residents to supplement the existing social safety net.
- Supporters hope guaranteed income programs will help address existing inequities worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.
A coalition of 25 democratic mayors announced the rollout of pilot guaranteed income programs in their cities on Wednesday amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We are seeing an unprecedented crisis in our country and we’re coming to a recognition that we don't have a funding problem, we have a priorities problem,” said Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who issued an executive order to provide up to 150 families in his city with $500 per month in guaranteed income for up to 18 months beginning this fall.
Since Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs and the Economic Security Project founded Mayors for a Guaranteed Income in June, 14 new mayors from cities including New Orleans, Seattle, Philadelphia and Richmond have joined, more than doubling the coalition's membership. The concept of a guaranteed income is a monthly cash payment given directly to individuals without any work or other requirements.
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“This is not a foreign concept, this is not a scary concept, it is a concept in line with values like universal dignity,” said Tubbs on a conference call. “Guaranteed income has to be a federal solution, but we understand that Washington can’t work as fast as us mayors.”
Stockton recently extended its guaranteed income pilot program, which began giving $500 each month to 125 residents in February 2019. But the concept of guaranteed income is often politicized in the United States under accusations of “socialism,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.
“I think back to my grandparents getting their social security check and my parents getting their social security check and now I’m looking forward to getting my social security check,” said Kenney, who is 62. “I do know that those things have become part of the fabric of America and we can make this part of the fabric of America where it’s not looked down upon.”
The mayors also believe a guaranteed income can help correct existing racial inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has disproportionately hurt Black, Indigeneous and other communities of color.
“Richmond is not unlike any of the other cities on this call. There’s a Richmond that’s on the rise and a Richmond that’s been left behind,” said Richmond, Va., Mayor Levar Stoney.
The $1.5 million budget for Saint Paul's People’s Prosperity Pilot will come from the city's CARES fund as well as the coalition's national network and philanthropy. While some cities are using a combination of public and private funds for their pilot programs, others are relying on private aid.
“Cash is the urgency of now,” said Shawyn Patterson-Howard, Mayor of Mount Vernon, N.Y. “It's the best economic multiplier we can provide. We know that when you put money in the hands of residents they are going to spend it back in their community.”
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