According to reports, more than 15,000 people have applied for Rochester’s Guaranteed Basic Income Program (GBI). The deadline is midnight tonight and applications are still coming in. Unfortunately, only 351 residents who meet the specific requirements and whose income is at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level will be selected to participate.
But should the government be giving out money, with no strings attached and no questions asked? This question will continue to be debated, with opposing views from the left and the right.
Assuredly, the idea of supplying Americans with a base income is nothing new; and the City of Rochester is not the first city to implement a no-strings-attached program that provides monthly stipends. Similar programs in various cities across the country claim the no-strings-attached policy works.
Programs like the Bridge Project state guaranteed income projects across the globe confirm that we are able to successfully alleviate poverty when we give people money—immediate needs are more easily met: housing, food, and healthcare; but they say results go beyond just that. Unconditional cash enables recipients to find steady and full-time employment, allows recipients to live healthier lives, with notably less anxiety and lower depression levels, and creates new opportunities for self-determination, choice, goal-setting, and risk-taking.
The Bridge Project also states that less than 1% of money from guaranteed income pilots have gone towards tobacco and alcohol.
The Washington Post reported that versions of the guaranteed income concept have been circulating for decades among academics and progressive activists. And as the country shut down in the early days of the pandemic, the conditions appeared ripe to try something new, something radical. Pilot programs launched in Los Angeles, in New Orleans, in Denver, but also in historically less progressive cities like Birmingham, Ala.; Columbia, S.C.; and Gainesville, Fla.
In March 2020, even a vast majority of congressional Republicans backed a $2 trillion stimulus bill that included unconditional cash payments for tens of millions of Americans. Early reports claim a quarter of the funds across projects went to food, and under 6% went to travel and leisure.
Now that the debate is heating up again, people are starting to voice their opinions.
"The purpose of guaranteed income is to close the wealth gap between races. Poverty is not race neutral. The remedy isn’t job training or work incentives. It’s using government power to redistribute wealth from whites to minorities," proclaimed New School professor Darrick Hamilton.
"Here's a guaranteed basic income program for you: Get off your ass and get a job," tweeted Radio host Bob Lonsberry.
"The pandemic has laid bare these inequalities. We as a nation have the ability to make sure everyone has their basic needs like food, housing and healthcare met. Building off successful pilot programs in my home state of Minnesota," U.S Representative Ilhan Omar said.
Local Rochesterian and founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York, Ayesha Kreutz is completely against the program. "There is a very big difference between poverty and the poverty mindset,” she said. “And I think if we started with first breaking down those things, right? Critical thinking skills is a good way to get people out of poverty. I think that goes back to our educational system. Frederick Douglass said knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave. We live in a country where anything is possible.”
Kreutz, a Republican, says if she had the opportunity to speak with Rochester Mayor Malik D. Evans, she would advise him not to provide the program.
"I cannot see any positive side. I just don't think it should be from the government. Taxpayer funding money to do things like this is always going to be bad and lead us down a road that makes people feel either entitled or enabled."
But to the ‘no questions asked’ giving policy, Monarch Foundation says giving people cash is intuitive: Low-income families lack flexible cash, live paycheck to paycheck, and are unable to save and generate wealth.
“No one tells you how to spend your money…Let’s stop pretending we know best,” they noted.