News & Politics

Atlanta Set to Begin the South's Biggest Guaranteed Income Experiments

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Progressives have talked about the concept of universal basic income (UBI) for years. The idea behind UBI is that the government would provide, in some way or another, a certain amount of money to everyone as a sort of minimum living standard.

Tied to the UBI concept is the notion of guaranteed income. Guaranteed income is a little different in that not everybody gets the same amount of money every time. Examples of this include Alaska’s payments to residents from the state’s oil investment fund and the casino revenue payments that some Native Americans receive. A guaranteed income can be public or private. (Save your “it’s called a job” jokes for the comments).

Atlanta is set to begin two guaranteed income experiments, and at least one of the two projects is will be the largest such experiment in the South.

The first initiative is the pet project of City Council member Amir Farokhi, who will oversee payments of $800 to up to 300 black single mothers in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, an area of the city that includes both the South’s largest concentration of Section 8 housing and tony new mixed-use developments.

Farokhi has been developing this project since 2018, and Atlanta Magazine reported on it in March:

Wanting to learn more about ways to reduce poverty and create opportunities, Farokhi partnered with the Economic Security Project—a New York–based advocacy group cofounded by early Facebook employee Chris Hughes, Natalie Foster, and Dorian Warren—to create a task force to study guaranteed income. Farokhi learned that what he once thought was a radical idea could simply be a way to bypass bureaucracy and confusing safety-net programs, he says, giving people “the autonomy to make decisions for themselves in ways that promote dignity and allow people to live better lives.”

Farokhi and his philanthropic partners will give the money out with no strings attached. Recipients can spend the funds on whatever they want, and there are no classes or meetings to attend — although resources will be available. He wants to expand this experiment beyond Atlanta into rural Georgia.

Recommended: What’s Driving ‘Buckxit,’ the Secession Movement in Atlanta’s Wealthiest District?

The councilman believes that the pandemic stimulus money has changed the way people think about receiving money.

“Because so many folks got direct cash payments to sustain themselves, I think there’s a much different appreciation for what a monthly check can do to create a basic level of security,” Farokhi told Axios.

Another scheme, headed by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, combines public and private funds.

In addition to $2 million pledged by the city, Bottoms’s plan incorporates a ton of cash from an investment group building a mixed-used development in downtown Atlanta. The group, which includes Atlanta Hawks’ owner Tony Ressler, seeks to invest in the community where they’re building.

The Bottoms plan looks to cast a wider net than Farokhi’s initiative, as Axios reports:

  • Called IMPACT (Income Mobility Program for Atlanta Community Transformation), the initiative will be available for anyone who is 18 years and older, lives in the city limits and earns up to 200% of the federal poverty level per year — or $25,760 for a single-person household. The city estimates the program should benefit more than 275 families.

  • Bottoms’ proposal includes a $500,000 contribution from an organization called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, which includes Bottoms and mayors like Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Levar Stoney of Richmond and London Breed of San Francisco.

You may wonder if programs like this would discourage people from working. Atlanta Magazine doesn’t think so:

First, this isn’t universal basic income, which calls for giving cash to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Guaranteed income programs like the one Atlanta is considering are more targeted; one proposal Farokhi’s task force studied would give cash to single mothers living below the poverty line. A study of Finland’s two-year basic-income experiment—the country sent 2,000 randomly selected (and initially unemployed) citizens roughly $600 a month—found people who received the aid were more likely to find and keep a job and feel happier overall. When a person does quit their job while receiving the benefit, Farokhi says, it’s often to work as a caretaker for a loved one.

That’s all well and good, but this sunny portrayal of guaranteed income ignores the fact that the pandemic-era extra unemployment benefits actually empowered people to not go back to work. And labor shortages have an impact on our economy and inflation.

So I’m not buying a guaranteed income program as a solution for poverty — whether it’s private or public money funding it. It’ll be interesting to see whether these schemes help those in need. But I don’t think it’s a viable way to lift people out of poverty. It’s just a way for left-wing investors to feel good about themselves.

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