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Ban on guaranteed income programs headed to Gov. Reynolds

Lawmakers are able to vote using buttons on each representative's desk.
Madeleine Charis King
IPR News file photo
Cities and counties could no longer participate in guaranteed income programs such as the UpLift pilot in central Iowa under a bill passed by the Iowa Senate and headed to the governor.

The Iowa Senate is sending a bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds aimed at blocking cities and counties from establishing guaranteed income programs such as the UpLift pilot program in central Iowa.

Over two years, UpLift is giving 110 low-income Iowans in Dallas, Polk and Warren counties monthly payments of $500. There are no conditions on how the money may be spent.

Researchers are following households that receive the money, and others that don’t, in order to learn what impact it has on their housing, work, health and well-being. The average annual household income among the participants is around $24,500, according to UpLift.

The cities of Des Moines and Urbandale contributed portions of their pandemic relief funding through the American Rescue Plan Act to the project. Windsor Heights and Polk County also helped fund the $2.5 million pilot.

Democrats in the Iowa Senate said Tuesday that the Legislature should respect that local decision. But Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said the program is a form of socialism and should be cut short.

“It’s a redistribution of wealth, and where does it stop?” Zaun said. “Yeah, this is an experiment but where does it stop when the ARPA moneys (run out) — which we all know is one-time money — then it’s going to be on the back of the taxpayer.”

The bill would not ban programs with work requirements. Sen. Scott Webster, R-Bettendorf, said without work incentives the payments make people more reliant on government support.

“We continue to try to walk down that path of saying that we need more government intervention,” Webster said. “Not only are these programs financially unsustainable, they’re not getting to the root problems they’re trying to fix.”

But Democrats said lawmakers will not fully know whether that is true or not unless the program and research are completed.

“These studies are about gathering information — data, facts — about what happens when we invest in people, to know how much money it takes to change a life, a family, a community for the better,” said Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-West Des Moines. “And that would be very helpful for a local, or state or federal government that wants to make life better for its people.”

Most of the participants in UpLift already work full or part-time, said Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines. And since no state funding is involved, he said, the Legislature should have nothing to do with the program.

“If you’re not going to help, get out of the way. That’s all we ask,” Bisignano said. “I didn’t come here and ask you for money. I didn’t ask you to subsidize the working poor. I’m just asking you to stay out of the way.”

If it is signed into law, the bill requires that any existing programs must end by January 1st.

UpLift is not administered by the city or county. It is led by the Harkin Institute at Drake University.

A project coordinator said they are aware of the bill but expect to continue the program through the final payment in April 2025. They believe they can do that since a large part of the funding comes from private foundations and corporate donors such as Wells Fargo, the Principal Foundation and the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa