On Thursday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced that she would be implementing several economic recovery proposals for the city, including a $1,000 a month universal basic income (UBI) program for artists.
Mayor Breed received the 41 economic recovery proposals from a recent COVID-19 recovery report by the San Francisco Economic Recovery Task Force (ERTF). The ERTF was created in April and was tasked to find ways to reduce a citywide budget deficit of $1.6 billion caused by COVID-19 and the shut down of the economy.
Recommendations ranged from left-friendly funding new public projects to right-friendly reduction of business regulations.
“The recommendations released today are a reflection of the immediate needs and aspirations of our Task Force and community. I am especially proud that we never lost sight of the need to rebuild more equitably so that all our communities can prosper,” said ERTF co-chairwoman Carmen Chu earlier this week.
However, one of the recommendations that Mayor Breed approved Thursday is to earmark $6 million for a pilot UBI program to fund up to 130 artists and art-related positions such as art teachers in the city.
“San Francisco is only at the beginning of what we know is going to be a long road to recovery,” Breed said after approving the recommendations on Thursday.
Supporters of the program, similar programs in California
San Francisco will now be third Californian city to have a UBI pilot program following the implementation of programs in Stockton and Long Beach. Other cities, such as Los Angeles and Oakland, are currently considering UBI pilot programs as well. A bill that would implement UBI on a state level was also considered this year in the Assembly with AB 2712, but fizzled out after COVID-19 hit.
Supporters of the San Francisco UBI program have pointed out that the extra money will most likely go towards local businesses and payment, helping several struggling sectors due to COVID-19 as well as helping beautify the city and public areas. They also so that it will help keep artists in the city, as recent polls have found that around 70% of the artists in San Francisco have been priced out of the city because of rising rents.
“This money won’t go to people already making a salary or would go to people sitting around at home,” explained San Francisco artist and activist Pete Silva in an interview with the Globe. “We’re out there creating and getting job from landowners and the city to make murals or artwork or to help others make artwork for the betterment of the city.
“Artists depend on commissions, and we lost a lot of those, as well as money from tourists, after COVID-19, so this would help keep us going and keep doing what we’re doing, as well as bolster local businesses hurt by all of this.”
Concerns, outrage over the artist UBI program
However, many others are against for UBI programs, citing the numerous issues that Stockton’s now expanded UBI program has had, as well as questioning the necessity of such programs during a statewide shutdown.
“A big problem with UBI is that everyone suddenly knows what you get minimum a month on top of what else you make,” explained Cheryl Keating, a law researcher who has studied UBI proposals and programs in the United States and Canada. “In many cases we’ve seen that landlords in wealthier areas find out that a tenant has UBI and proceeds to charge them more because they can now afford such a bump in rent. Well that and because the landlord had been keeping it low to keep tenants, but that UBI changed everything.
“Employers also found out that their employees were on UBI and refused raises because, according to them, they didn’t need it because of their UBI. When you go past the debate of this and look at what happens when it’s in place, it changes prices, pay, how things are done, and honestly a lot of things over night.”
“And we haven’t even mentioned the social effects. When Denver and Seattle had UBI programs in the 60’s and 70’s, not only did people work less on average but marriages ended in separations and divorce more.”
Many have also questioned whether or not UBI, EDD payments, or homeless programs such as Project Roomkey implemented during the state shutdown would even be necessary if Governor Gavin Newsom had just opened up the state sooner.
“Honestly, they wouldn’t have,” said Keating. “UBI would still have rolled out in some places, but it wouldn’t have been rushed out like the San Francisco artist UBI program. Stockton probably wouldn’t have been extended.”
“A lot of money wouldn’t have gone to the state unemployment office, and while homeless programs would have been implemented just because homelessness is really bad out there, large projects like devoting hotels to the homeless would have likely not been brought up.”
“I can’t speak on a historical level, because this is the first time we’ve seen UBI in a time of a major crisis like a pandemic, but many of these programs would not have been rolled out or grown to such sizes they are now if California was more open. Look at UBI. If businesses were opened in, say, July in San Francisco, they would have money coming in and that could go to graphic artists and artists to design and decorate. But with your state shutdown, a lot of money that was to have gone to art commissions didn’t get out.”
“So yes, UBI would have definitely been way more limited if California had not shut down the way it did or kept it for as long as they had.”
San Francisco’s artist UBI project is expected to be started soon within the city.