The Los Angeles City Council approved a pilot universal income program on Tuesday, appropriating nearly $40 million to test out a one year program.
For the last several years, several Californian cities have passed and have even run universal basic income pilot programs. Stockton’s mixed-result program was the first in the late 2010’s, with programs in Compton, San Francisco, Oakland, and other cities. A statewide program passed an Assembly Committee vote earlier this year, but fizzled out before reaching an Assembly or Senate vote in May.
In Los Angeles, universal income programs had been stalled for over a year, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, on the County level, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a $541,000, 150 person pilot program in July. The County’s program reinvigorated efforts at the city level, leading to the program to pass on Tuesday.
The Basic Income Guaranteed: Los Angeles Economic Assistance Pilot (BIG:LEAP) program is now the largest to ever be passed in the United States. In addition to costing the city almost $40 million, the program will pay out $1,000 a month in direct cash payments each month to 3,200 families in the city. Targeted families in BIG:LEAP are to include those above the age of 18 who are currently living under the poverty line who were also impacted by the pandemic. They also must have at least one child or currently be pregnant.
Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, who was instrumental in supporting the project and having it pass the Council, noted on Tuesday that over one-fourth of all beneficiaries will be coming from his district, which currently has a 12.9% poverty rate.
“The idea of a guaranteed pilot program is one my office has been following for some time, and it gained momentum as we witnessed our country examine the racial disparities and social injustices during the COVID pandemic,” said Price on Tuesday. “It became clear this program was necessary in following the positive results of the Stockton Seed Program. It’s my hope that following the conclusion of this pilot program, that it’ll be replicated at the state and federal level.”
A UBI program in LA
However, critics noted that LA’s program, while benefiting those most in need of funds, ignores some of the primary tenants of universal income.
“Almost every basic universal income pilot program in the US, and especially California, has been severely flawed,” said Cheryl Keating, a law researcher who has studied universal basic income and guaranteed income proposals and programs in the United States and Canada, to the Globe on Tuesday. “Universal income is supposed to go out to everyone regardless, and California is targeting who gets it. So when the results come in and show an improvement, it’s like ‘no duh.’ It’s not taking into account all the others who get the extra. We’ve seen from programs in the past who used a true form of it that a lot of money going to upper and middle class families actually went to saving or investing, and not spending. And even on what was spent, it primarily goes to paying down debt or paying for rent or utilities or other needs.”
“It’s not going to be the economy booster like many think it will be and could lead to even more people leaving the workforce, which, right now, would be disastrous since there are so many opening right now.”
“In a nutshell, this is just another flawed UBI program that ignores the ‘universal’ part.”
More details on Los Angele’s UBI project are expected to be released on Wednesday.
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