Wausau could become the first city in Wisconsin to launch a guaranteed income pilot program
A group of struggling families in Wausau could receive $ 500 a month unconditionally as part of a program designed to study the effects of providing a guaranteed income.
If the city accepts a $ 100,000 grant to fund the project, Wausau could be the first city in Wisconsin to launch a guaranteed income program. The city would have to determine the eligibility requirements, said Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg, but it is likely that the grant would fund payments for a year to around 12 living families. at or near the poverty line.
The purpose of a guaranteed income program is to give money to people who need it. It is distinct from a universal basic income (a policy defended in 2020 by Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang) in that it is addressed to those who need it. But it is also distinct from existing social benefits, such as unemployment insurance and food stamps, which come with complex bureaucracies and demands on how benefits are administered and how they can be used.
Funding for the pilot project is administered by the group Mayors for a guaranteed incomeand data from some 30 cities aiming to launch a pilot program is being collected and analyzed by academics at the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.
If it works, Rosenberg said, the program will help lift community members out of poverty and allow some to gain a foothold on permanent improvements by saving them for a down payment on housing, avoiding pitfalls. such as high interest auto title loans. , and make other life changes.
Paying $ 500 each month “is a lot, but it’s also not a lot,” Rosenberg said. “You can’t just quit all your jobs and live on $ 500 a month.”
The first city to launch the project was Stockton, Calif., Which made payments to some residents for 18 months starting in 2019. Preliminary data shows that participants used the money to buy food and clothes and to pay utility bills. This program was the first of its kind in the country. Forty-three percent of its beneficiaries were employed and 70 percent were women. They spent around 40 percent of the benefits they received over food.
A economic study of guaranteed income experiences found that they increased educational outcomes and improved health outcomes without affecting the job market.
But the idea of unconditional payments is not without its criticisms. Rosenberg admitted that the notion of free money seemed unfair to some. One of the conclusions of studies on guaranteed income is that alcohol and tobacco purchases have not increased among the recipients. The fact that this has been studied highlights a line of criticism against the proposal, namely that beneficiaries cannot use the payments wisely.
In Wausau, the city’s finance committee will take up the proposal on Tuesday evening. Rosenberg said she anticipated “a lot of good questions” from board members. The full city council will vote on it in February. The grant would fund the payments as well as a stipend of $ 20,000 for a researcher who would collect data for academics at the University of Pennsylvania; no funding would come from the city. Creating the program and identifying beneficiaries would require working with local nonprofits, Rosenberg said, but the goal would be to launch the program with payments this year.
If he joined the pilot project, Wausau would be one of the smaller towns involved. The mayors of Atlanta, Los Angeles, and St. Paul, Minnesota are among the members of the Guaranteed Income Mayors Group. Much of the funding for the pilots comes from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who in December donated $ 15 million to the group.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who is also a member of the group, said she hopes to implement a pilot project in Madison. She has also says it supports a guaranteed national income. Madison received a $ 500,000 grant from the group in December and is working on implementing the program.
Rosenberg said she hopes the project will help generate meaningful data for social scientists – but more importantly, that the payments will help improve the lives of Wausau families.
“People just don’t leave from the same place,” she said. “If there is a way to help people come together and stop these inequalities from driving a wedge between us, I think that’s an important thing to look at and study.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Madison received a $ 500,000 Guaranteed Income Grant from Mayors in December.