Some pilot programs have been funded privately — Twitter founder Jack Dorsey has donated over $15 million to MGI. Other places, like Minneapolis, are using federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan.
Matt Zwolinski, director of the Center for Ethics, Economics and Public Policy at the University of San Diego, has studied guaranteed income policy for over a decade and says the increased interest is remarkable.
But he says there’s a flaw in using the pilot projects as a “proof of concept.” Most are for one to two years and give money to a narrow slice of the population that knows the cash will eventually stop, so participants may be more likely to seek full-time employment during that period than if they knew the cash was permanent.
Zwolinski also questions whether people in the U.S. are willing to support a national program that gives money to people who could work but aren’t doing so.
“That really rubs a lot of people the wrong way,” he said.
Even in the smaller pilots there have been hiccups. In many cases, waivers are needed to ensure the new income doesn’t make recipients ineligible for other benefits they receive.
Wausau, Wisconsin, Mayor Katie Rosenberg said that snag has delayed the city’s program from getting up and running.
“I don’t want to hurt people,” Rosenberg said.
Gary, Indiana, started its pilot program in April, providing $500 per month to 125 households for one year. Burgess Peoples, the pilot’s executive director, said recipients receive “wraparound services,” including help with finding jobs. Already it’s making a difference, she said.
Two women used their first checks to pay what they owed for college tuition, allowing them to keep working toward their degrees. One man got his car repaired so he could get to work without paying for a Lyft ride.
Peoples hopes more local experiments will pressure the federal government to change the way it assists poor people.