The New York pilot aims to expand the safety net

Annette Steele is not destitute or unemployed. But for one year he will receive $ 500 a month in wireless payments attached as part of an experimental universal basic income program in upstate New York.

Posts from Compton, California, to Richmond, Virginia, are testing guaranteed income programs, which have gained more attention after the pandemic hit millions of workers.

Steele, a special education school assistant, receives her payments through a program in the County of Ulster, which covers part of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River valley.

During the pilot program, funded by private donations, 100 county residents making less than $ 46,900 a year will receive $ 500 a month for a year. The income threshold was based on 80% of the county’s average income, meaning it includes both the poor and a slice of the middle class – people who face financial stress but can’t qualify as usual. for government-based help on income.

For researchers, the pilot could give them a more complete picture of what happens when a number of people are sent payments that guarantee a basic life.

For Steele, 57, it’s a welcome financial boost that helped him pay for car insurance and food.

“I am lowering my bills,” said Steele, who lives in the village of Ellenville with her retired husband. “People think because you’ve worked so many years, that you make this tremendous amount of money. But no, really.”

Less than 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of New York City, Ulster County is a popular destination for weekend getaways to Woodstock or the Catskill Mountains. Its large city, Kingston, is small, with 23,000 people.

Basic income programs elsewhere tend to focus on cities. In contrast, this northern state program stretches over a mix of locations: a city, small towns, and areas several miles away from bus lines and supermarkets.

“Demonstrating that this approach works not only in urban areas, but for rural areas of the country – which we know is one of our major national issues – I think there is a great opportunity here,” said the director of the ‘Ulster County Patrick Ryan.

Ryan saw cash payments as a way to help local families struggling to move forward, or even pass, like the pandemic. Many people in the county were already suffering from housing costs before the pandemic, when a large influx of New York City residents led to raging real estate prices, he said.

The first payments were made in mid-May. Recipients of the money can spend it as they wish, but will be invited to participate in periodic surveys on their physical health, mental health and employment situation.

The Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania, which the school has trained with Mayors for Guaranteed Income, is evaluating the pilot program.

Recipient Eric Luna, a 26-year-old electrical lab technician, said the money helped pay the bills at home which helped his parents make little purchases in Wallkill. But he also hopes to put them aside, perhaps for a master’s degree.

“I also learned how to save money again,” he said. “So it will be a learning experience.”

There were more than 4,200 candidates for the program in a county of 178,000 people. The co-founder of the Center for Guaranteed Income Research, Stacia West, which evaluates more than 20 such pilot programs, is interested to see how the spending compares to cities like Stockton, California, where more than a third has gone to eat. .

“Knowing what we know about barriers to employment, particularly in rural areas, we can see more money going into transportation than we’ve ever seen before in any other experiment,” said West, also a professor at the ‘University of Tennessee College of Social Work. “But it remains to be seen.”

Supporters of guaranteed incomes say recipients can decide how to spend the best money – whether it’s food, job searches or to replace a refrigerator. The money can complement the existing social security network, they say, or can be used as an emergency response when the economy starts to collapse.

The ultimate goal for a number of advocates is a universal basic income, or UBI, that distributes cash payment programs to all adults.

The UBI idea helped fuel a stronger-than-expected Democratic presidential primary run last year by Andrew Yang, who proposed $ 1,000 a month for every American adult.

Yang, who has a second home in the County of Ulster, is now running for mayor of New York City with a basic income proposal to help residents earn lower incomes.

Officials say Yang was not involved in the Ulster program, but that the non-profit organization he founded, Humanity Forward, helped share experiences at the start of a UBI pilot. .

Critics of cash transfer programs are concerned about their effectiveness and cost compared to aid programs that direct funds to feed, shelter or to help raise children.

Drake University economics professor Heath Henderson is concerned about programs that make needy people less likely to apply, even those without a home.

While there are times when people could benefit from a cash infusion, money is unlikely to address the structural issues that plague people, such as inadequate health care and schools, he said.

“If we continue to think about tackling poverty in terms only of throwing money at people, we don’t think about the structures that generate poverty in the first place and we don’t really solve the problem,” Henderson said.

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