Long Beach to create ‘basic income’ pilot program that would give cash to residents

Long Beach will become one of 15 cities that will experiment with giving residents an unconditional basic income to some of its residents through a pilot program financed by private money.

Mayor Robert Garcia made an announcement Thursday morning on Twitter that Long Beach would be among the 15 cities taking part in the pilot program. Garcia said the specifics have yet to be worked out and that more details would be released in the weeks and months to come. He said the current state of affairs have highlighted the need for such a pilot.

“The COVID-19 crisis is really showing us the weakness in how our economy works,” Garcia said in an interview. “People need direct support to survive and we’ve seen that through direct payments from the federal government through stimulus checks and through our rental assistance program here in Long Beach.”

The effort is being led by Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a coalition of 15 mayors that spans the United States from Oakland, Long Beach and Los Angeles in California to Newark, New Jersey and Columbia, South Carolina on the East Coast.

It was founded by the 29-year-old mayor of Stockton, Michael Tubbs and this week got an injection of $3 million from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey that will help establish pilot programs in the 15-city coalition. While most of the $3 million donation from Dorsey will go toward establishing pilot programs, some will go toward expanding Tubb’s program in Stockton.

Tubbs has been running a UBI program called Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) since 2019, in which 130 residents who make below the city’s median income are given a monthly income of $500. For Stockton, that cost about $46,000.

The SEED program came with a tracking effort to better analyze how people spent the money. A 2019 report showed that about 40% of the funds were being spent on food and about 20% went toward utilities, auto repairs and fuel.

It’s unclear who would get payments from the pilot program in Long Beach or how much they would get. Funding will be raised from foundations and organizations that are interested in UBI payments, Garcia said, but eventually it could turn to public funding.

“The future of UBI is absolutely publicly funded,” Garcia said.

Garcia said it’s similar to the stimulus checks that were sent to Americans across the country at the outset of the pandemic, when many people were forced into unemployment or saw reduced earnings because of the closure of businesses.

The idea of a guaranteed basic income is not a new one and has been debated since the 1700s. Supporters argue that giving a no-strings attached monthly payment to all residents not only helps provide a standard of living above the poverty line, but also gives people the economic freedom to pursue education or job opportunities to pull themselves out of poverty.

That leaders in tech are giving money to efforts like this UBI project is not a coincidence. Some leaders in Silicon Valley have been giving money to these causes for years as they’ve recognized that innovations in technology that they’ve created are likely putting scores of people out of work.

Garcia noted this trend and said that Long Beach is a great place to pilot a guaranteed income program.

“The economy is going to look very different in 30 years as automation eliminates jobs,” Garcia said. “We have to start redefining what the economy is going to look like in the future.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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