The mayor of Los Angeles wants to give the 2,000 poorest households in his city $1,000 a month in income for a full year, no strings attached, just to see how the money affects their lives.
Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal, outlined as a small part of his overall anti-poverty platform in his State of the City address on Monday night, could be seen as rather modest, given that 18% of the city’s nearly 4 million residents lived in poverty in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nevertheless, he said, it would represent the largest experiment in guaranteed basic income in the U.S. if the City Council passes the $24 million pilot project.
Very low-income households with children under age 18 and some sort of hardship would be the target group in Los Angeles. Typically, government poverty-fighting programs have tied eligibility to recipients’ efforts to find work.
If recipient households made measurably good use of the money, it would help build a case for expanding the program. Stockton, California, has tried it, and results are still being evaluated. Santa Clara County is in the midst of a similar guaranteed income pilot program, which provides qualifying poor families $500 a month.
“When you give money to people who are poor, it creates better outcomes,” the mayor said. “It covers child care. It puts food on the table. It leads to more high school graduations and better checkups.”
Michael Tubbs, the former mayor of Stockton who championed a guaranteed basic income program in his own city, was on hand for Garcetti’s speech. He said Garcetti’s endorsement of guaranteed basic income is encouraging because it represents a major figure’s commitment to the idea that poverty is not inevitable.
“The world cares about what L.A. does,” Tubbs said. “To have the mayor of the second-largest city come out so boldly is significant.”
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, had an entirely different take. He said when government officials offer up programs that give away “free money,” they’re simply trying to buy votes in the next election.
“When you can rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always count on the vote of Paul,” he said.
The $24 million guaranteed income plan represents just a sliver of Garcetti’s vision of spending $1 billion on efforts to tackle rampant homelessness and increase funding for gang intervention workers, sidewalk vendors, arts activities and small businesses to help the city recover from the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Santa Clara County is already operating a $1,000-a-month income program for young adults exiting the county's foster care system. State Sen. Dave Cortese (D), who ushered in that program during his time on the county's board of supervisors, has proposed a statewide adaptation of it.