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Stockton, CA, Pilot Program Raises Support For Universal Basic Income Among US Mayors

Mayor Michael Tubbs. (Timothy Archibald/The Forbes Collection)
Mayor Michael Tubbs. (Timothy Archibald/The Forbes Collection)

Universal basic income — the policy that promises a regular paycheck regardless of employment — is starting to gain traction and funding.

This week, billionaire Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced a $3 million donation to Mayors For A Guaranteed Income. One of the leaders of the coalition, Mayor Michael Tubbs, has been piloting a UBI program in his city of Stockton, California, since early 2019.

As the country faces an unprecedented global health crisis alongside protests against the violence of racism and poverty, support for UBI is growing because "the times demand it," he says.

"It’s a real New Deal moment, especially considering the fact that our biggest pandemic response thus far has been unemployment insurance, which was created in 1935 as part of the New Deal," he says. "There’s an understanding that we have to update our social safety net to reflect 2020."

Because of COVID-19, Tubbs now views UBI as a "pandemic resilience tool." In future years, he believes guaranteed cash could help people build economic resilience to persevere through other crises such as fires, floods or hurricanes.

In Stockton, 125 people were randomly selected to receive $500 per month. Funded mostly by philanthropy, the program was recently extended until 2021.

While $500 in cash isn't enough to build a large amount of wealth, it serves as a lifeline to help people stabilize their financial situation, he says.

Tubbs recalls one resident who worked in retail using the $500 to take unpaid time off and interview for a better job. Now, thanks to his new job with benefits and stable hours, he can afford tutoring for his children.

Another young woman in the program used her $500 to buy dentures that she previously couldn't afford, he says. Others say they used the money to pay off debt.

"We’re seeing that something as small as $500 isn’t enough to replace work, isn’t enough to change the nature of this country," he says. "But it is enough to allow people who are working hard, who are contributing, just a floor to stand on as they seek to build and better their lives and the lives of their communities."

With tight state and city budgets, Tubbs calls for federal support for UBI. He supports the bill proposed by Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey to give Americans $2,000 per month during COVID-19 as a first step.

To find federal funds for UBI, he also suggests looking at the Pentagon budget and using tax money from the legalization of marijuana.

Since trickle-down economics haven't worked his lifetime, Tubbs says he wants people to rethink the economy and consider the value of investing in the people who drive it.

"The issue isn’t a resource issue," he says. "The issue is really one of political will and understanding that we can trust everyday folks like you and me the same way we trust billionaires and trust CEOs to make good decisions."

Many skeptics say cash payments won’t solve other core issues such as addiction or poor health care. Some also say giving cash to everyone would take money away from programs that help people in poverty.

Tubbs disagrees with these criticisms. The U.S. has the resources to end poverty by providing an income floor for all Americans, he says.

UBI won't solve every problem the U.S. faces, he says, but cash in hand will solve issues associated with poverty and economic insecurity — the most pressing issues during the COVID-19 crisis.

"I reject the scarcity mindset," he says, "because we only seem to have that mindset when it comes to helping normal everyday Americans."

Cristina Kim produced this story and edited it for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.