Prioritizing self-determination and opportunity: What you need to know about guaranteed basic income

Guaranteed basic income is a concept which is gaining momentum – in San Diego, around the country, and across the globe. This approach to poverty intervention is backed by a growing body of data that suggests giving people the freedom to invest in themselves is one of the most effective ways to help people achieve upward economic mobility. On August 25th, join your Catalyst peers for Do the Work: Guaranteed Basic Income, an immersive day of learning about local pilots as well as strategies to combine philanthropic and public funding to make San Diego’s emerging projects successful.

Not familiar with guaranteed basic income? We’ve got you covered with our top five questions (and easy-to-digest answers) about this emerging practice:

What exactly is guaranteed basic income? The broadly accepted meaning is a regularly provided cash payment given directly to individuals or families, with no restrictions on its use. As opposed to a universal basic income distributed to all community members, guaranteed basic income programs identify specific target populations based on geography, socioeconomic status, gender, race/ethnicity, and other factors. Payments are meant to supplement other safety net services rather than replace them.

What are some examples of guaranteed income projects running today? Income projects of varying structure and scale have been run around the world for decades—the United States’ most expansive and longest-running being Alaska’s universal basic income program, which launched in 1982. This annual payment is provided to all state residents, including children, and is financed by tax income from natural resource industries. Alaska’s program is still running today, and while there have been challenges, the program has been credited for keeping extreme poverty levels low across the state. More recently, the city of Stockton, California, garnered national attention for its Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, or SEED. Launched by Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs and funded completely through private donations, SEED is the nation’s first mayor-led guaranteed income initiative. Tubbs has since gone on to lead Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a growing national network of public sector leaders advocating for a guaranteed income “to ensure that all Americans have an income floor.”

What is the rationale behind guaranteed income? Growing interest in guaranteed income reflects a powerful philosophical turn taking place in philanthropy, one in which agency and trust are beginning to shift toward communities themselves. The Center for Guaranteed Income Research defines the primary principle that “people are experts of their own lives and they know best where they can leverage that money to smooth income volatility and help their family achieve upward mobility.” The second principle is that an unrestricted cash infusion reduces the friction and bureaucracy of enrolling in social support services that do not fully align with families’ lived experiences and shifting needs. These concepts are underpinned by a cultural narrative shift which recognizes that poverty is a multi-faceted, systemic issue, not an individual character flaw.

Are there income pilots happening in the San Diego region? In San Diego, several innovative guaranteed basic income pilots are emerging. One such pilot is spearheaded by Café X: By Any Beans Necessary, which is a family-owned, Black woman-owned cooperative coffee shop built to support generational wealth building in the Black community and other marginalized communities in the San Diego region. Café X is partnering with San Diego for Every Child and Jewish Family Service to develop the Black Women’s Resilience Project (BWRP), envisioned as an economic and justice tool to help address the racial, gender, and health inequities that impact the lives of Black women. During Catalyst’s ALL IN Conference last year, Café X co-founder Khea Pollard shared what makes the BWRP model so innovative: in combination with cash transfers, the program will provide wraparound, culturally specific supports in order to nurture self-determination and communal engagement for participants. In addition, the pilot will measure how funds are spent, how payments impact the way participants interact with other support services, and in what ways participants are able to invest in themselves and begin building generational wealth.

My organization does not specifically support economic security as a funding area – why should we learn about it now? Economic insecurity is a driver of myriad other challenges facing our communities. Mental and physical health, housing stability, employment, job training, education access, and parenting/child development are all negatively impacted when a family’s income stream is volatile and insufficient to support basic needs. Private and public sector leaders across the nation are now considering how unrestricted cash transfers could serve as part of a more effective strategy for families to break away from the inequities propelled by economic insecurity.

Guaranteed basic income is an opportunity for marginalized community members to define a new future for themselves and their families – one which is not constrained by systemic issues like racism, sexism, redlining, and implicit biases. It’s also an opportunity to broadly demonstrate new strategies – and new combinations of strategies – to address poverty. But if current and future income programs are to succeed, philanthropy, the public sector, and community stakeholders will need to collaborate in bold new ways. We will need to reimagine how policy initiatives, structural changes to human service delivery models, and narrative shifts can mitigate the adverse effects of poverty in our communities. We will need to learn and adapt together as we explore how to collaborate for successful pilots and the continuation of sustainable programs in the San Diego region. Begin the journey with us August 25th with Do the Work: Guaranteed Basic Income.