News

In wake of the pandemic, Mountain View seeks to launch universal basic income pilot

Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga makes a pitch for UBI using stimulus funds

Margaret Abe-Koga

Calling it the right time to test the waters on an increasingly popular idea, the Mountain View City Council agreed this week to pilot a universal basic income (UBI) program for residents in the city.

The proposal, which still needs formal approval next month, would put $1 million in federal stimulus money into a small-scale UBI program that follows in the footsteps of cities across the country, including Stockton and more recently South San Francisco. Participants will receive monthly payments with no strings attached, giving them complete autonomy over how to spend the government assistance.

UBI programs typically last one to two years, granting a pool of residents anywhere from $500 to over $1,000 in monthly checks. Early results show the extra income has the potential to stabilize families barely scraping by, and lift people out of poverty in the long term. Results are mixed on whether UBI has the power to reduce unemployment, with some studies finding disappointing results.

Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, who made the pitch, said UBI programs now have a track record of success across the country, and that it would be the quickest, most direct way to stabilize families in need. Unlike other government assistance, which is typically restricted to narrow uses, Abe-Koga said recipients would be empowered to make their own decisions on how to spend the money and best meet their own needs.

"I really believe that direct financial assistance is one of the fastest ways and one of the better ways to be able to help those who are struggling or who need a little extra help," she said.

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A well-publicized UBI pilot in Stockton released a report in March that found participants experienced less volatility in their month-to-month income, were more likely to find work and were generally happier and showed less signs of depression and anxiety. Though larger cities are more likely to experiment with UBI, Abe-Koga noted that South San Francisco -- a touch smaller than Mountain View -- is moving forward with a pilot of its own this year.

Though city officials plan to seek philanthropic and corporate donations to fuel Mountain View's UBI program, the council's initial proposal is to pour $1 million into the pilot using money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress last month. The group Mayors for a Guaranteed Income commended the bill for putting $1,400 in the pockets of needy families, but cautioned that real economic relief hinges on recurring payments rather than one-time money.

"Our constituents, and all struggling Americans, need monthly cash infusions for real relief," according to a statement from the group.

With Mountain View's city budget mostly balanced, the ARPA stimulus money is free to go toward new programs and COVID-19 financial assistance rather than backfilling deficit spending. Abe-Koga said she has been eyeing federal funds as a means to pay for UBI since the first rounds of CARES Act money last year, but the city ultimately opted to use the money for rent relief.

The latest round of money seems like the right time to pursue a UBI pilot in the city, Abe-Koga said, though she believes the concept goes beyond pandemic relief and could be a longer-term solution for financially unstable residents.

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"For me this has really been part of our overall efforts to address the challenges of affordability," she said. "It feels like a more successful approach to help people better their situations and lives."

The nuts and bolts of the program have yet to be determined. If the program has to be funded solely through ARPA money, Abe-Koga said it makes sense to do $500 monthly checks for the participants over the course of one year. The experiment in Stockton gave 125 residents $500 in monthly checks over the course of 24 months, while Santa Clara County's ongoing pilot is giving $1,000 monthly checks to 72 people who have aged out of the foster youth system.

Abe-Koga said her preference is to limit the program to lower-income families, which could mirror affordable housing requirements.

When the pitch for UBI came up at the Tuesday, April 27, council meeting, some council members worried about committing $1 million to a pilot without knowing much in the way of details and logistics, including who would be responsible for administering the program. But with so many comparable programs being developed across the U.S. right now, Abe-Koga said she isn't concerned about coming up with something that works.

"I have faith in our staff that we will be able to come up with a strong program," she said. "Sometimes you just have to try something to see if it works or not."

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In wake of the pandemic, Mountain View seeks to launch universal basic income pilot

Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga makes a pitch for UBI using stimulus funds

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 30, 2021, 1:47 pm

Calling it the right time to test the waters on an increasingly popular idea, the Mountain View City Council agreed this week to pilot a universal basic income (UBI) program for residents in the city.

The proposal, which still needs formal approval next month, would put $1 million in federal stimulus money into a small-scale UBI program that follows in the footsteps of cities across the country, including Stockton and more recently South San Francisco. Participants will receive monthly payments with no strings attached, giving them complete autonomy over how to spend the government assistance.

UBI programs typically last one to two years, granting a pool of residents anywhere from $500 to over $1,000 in monthly checks. Early results show the extra income has the potential to stabilize families barely scraping by, and lift people out of poverty in the long term. Results are mixed on whether UBI has the power to reduce unemployment, with some studies finding disappointing results.

Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, who made the pitch, said UBI programs now have a track record of success across the country, and that it would be the quickest, most direct way to stabilize families in need. Unlike other government assistance, which is typically restricted to narrow uses, Abe-Koga said recipients would be empowered to make their own decisions on how to spend the money and best meet their own needs.

"I really believe that direct financial assistance is one of the fastest ways and one of the better ways to be able to help those who are struggling or who need a little extra help," she said.

A well-publicized UBI pilot in Stockton released a report in March that found participants experienced less volatility in their month-to-month income, were more likely to find work and were generally happier and showed less signs of depression and anxiety. Though larger cities are more likely to experiment with UBI, Abe-Koga noted that South San Francisco -- a touch smaller than Mountain View -- is moving forward with a pilot of its own this year.

Though city officials plan to seek philanthropic and corporate donations to fuel Mountain View's UBI program, the council's initial proposal is to pour $1 million into the pilot using money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress last month. The group Mayors for a Guaranteed Income commended the bill for putting $1,400 in the pockets of needy families, but cautioned that real economic relief hinges on recurring payments rather than one-time money.

"Our constituents, and all struggling Americans, need monthly cash infusions for real relief," according to a statement from the group.

With Mountain View's city budget mostly balanced, the ARPA stimulus money is free to go toward new programs and COVID-19 financial assistance rather than backfilling deficit spending. Abe-Koga said she has been eyeing federal funds as a means to pay for UBI since the first rounds of CARES Act money last year, but the city ultimately opted to use the money for rent relief.

The latest round of money seems like the right time to pursue a UBI pilot in the city, Abe-Koga said, though she believes the concept goes beyond pandemic relief and could be a longer-term solution for financially unstable residents.

"For me this has really been part of our overall efforts to address the challenges of affordability," she said. "It feels like a more successful approach to help people better their situations and lives."

The nuts and bolts of the program have yet to be determined. If the program has to be funded solely through ARPA money, Abe-Koga said it makes sense to do $500 monthly checks for the participants over the course of one year. The experiment in Stockton gave 125 residents $500 in monthly checks over the course of 24 months, while Santa Clara County's ongoing pilot is giving $1,000 monthly checks to 72 people who have aged out of the foster youth system.

Abe-Koga said her preference is to limit the program to lower-income families, which could mirror affordable housing requirements.

When the pitch for UBI came up at the Tuesday, April 27, council meeting, some council members worried about committing $1 million to a pilot without knowing much in the way of details and logistics, including who would be responsible for administering the program. But with so many comparable programs being developed across the U.S. right now, Abe-Koga said she isn't concerned about coming up with something that works.

"I have faith in our staff that we will be able to come up with a strong program," she said. "Sometimes you just have to try something to see if it works or not."

Comments

Santa Rita Mom
Registered user
The Crossings
on Apr 30, 2021 at 2:50 pm
Santa Rita Mom, The Crossings
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 2:50 pm

"Popular idea"? I'm sure that it's popular with those who get money without working for it.

How popular is this idea with those who have to PAY for it?


SC Parent
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Apr 30, 2021 at 2:55 pm
SC Parent, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 2:55 pm

I'm very disappointed to hear that this idea even came from Margaret. I thought she was the voice of reason on the Council.

BTW, the "U" in "UBI" stands for "Universal," so I don't know why "Abe-Koga said her preference is to limit the program to lower-income families."


JS
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Apr 30, 2021 at 3:54 pm
JS, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2021 at 3:54 pm

I like the idea with some strings attached to incentivize working and not wasting taxpayer money.

1. The person only gets the money if they have worked on average 20 hours per week. I don't care if the job is menial job paying minimum wage, the person must work. There are jobs out there and beggars can't be picky. I've heard of way too many people not working because of it's cheaper to be unemployed during COVID (with the Federal unemployment boost)
2. If the person is arrested, the money stops immediately. It takes no effort to avoid getting arrested. Don't be stupid, do be responsible and you'll get money for free.
3. Mandatory (illegal) drug screening. 75000 people die each year from heroin (~6x that of drunk drivers and ~6x that of murder by firearms). I'm guessing it is way higher if you include meth, crack, cocaine, etc. Taxpayers shouldn't fund junkies who can't hold a steady job.


Me
Registered user
North Whisman
on May 1, 2021 at 7:13 am
Me, North Whisman
Registered user
on May 1, 2021 at 7:13 am

Summary of the comments: The mayor wants us to have empathy for Mountain View's least well off during this incredibly challenging time, and is proposing an innovative, efficient, and compassionate program?

Screw that ... unless we get rid of the compassion and empathy!


Bruce Karney
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on May 1, 2021 at 8:49 am
Bruce Karney, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on May 1, 2021 at 8:49 am

My first job out of college in 1974-76 was working as a research assistant SRI International on a well-funded federal study of "the negative income tax," which was very similar to the UBI concept. This may have been the largest social science research project in the nation's history. It investigated a wide variety of possible effects of providing cash benefits on things such as the divorce rate, higher educational attainment, preparation to change careers, and other potential outcomes. The results were published decades ago and you can read them here: Web Link
The primary outcome of this project was the creation of the Earned Income Tax Credit in Federal Tax Law. Most of the principal researchers (PhDs in economics, econometrics and sociology) are probably still alive in their mid-70s or older and many of them may still live in the area. It would be great if The Voice would track some of them down and interview them. None of the articles I've read in the last several years about UBI seem to reference the SIME/DIME experiment, which is a real shame as so many bright people did so much good research.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on May 1, 2021 at 9:10 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on May 1, 2021 at 9:10 am

Glad MAK is showing her compassionate Public Policy side. As a more efficient government proponent / this / like the Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan critique of President Johnson's War on Poverty (welfare) program / seems efficient! Instead of employing many middle class welfare professionals - for a very small direct return to the poor families (very High Overhead), this puts money in the pockets of the most needy.

I totally agree with those above who ask for 'sensible restrictions'. I think MAK was also proposing some of those. THE BEST ADMINISTERED of these programs I believe have been shown effective (I'm not expert). Something like Bruce Karney's suggestion (above) with some Hard Headed recent researchers would be most interesting, particularly if there is a conservative Hoover Institution economist who has studied and yet Still supports this!


Jeremy Hoffman
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on May 1, 2021 at 9:41 am
Jeremy Hoffman, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on May 1, 2021 at 9:41 am

I'm a big supporter of universal basic income and negative income tax credit. They are cheaper and easier to administer than a lot of our social safety net programs, and preserve the dignity of the recipients. Have you seen all the absurdly complex rules and restrictions that apply to those that receive SNAP (food stamps)?

I'm just a little perplexed at the idea of administering this at the city level. Especially when the city and the region has a housing shortage. If Mountain View residents can get $500 a month, won't that just increase the rents by $500 a month? I feel like we need such programs to be administered at the state level or federal level so that people benefit wherever they are. Still, I applaud MAK for raising the matter.


MogensLauritzen
Registered user
Gemello
on May 2, 2021 at 11:18 am
MogensLauritzen, Gemello
Registered user
on May 2, 2021 at 11:18 am

There is no question this is badly needed. I hope the woman sleeping on a bench near my house will be one of the recipients, as will elderly woman R that I used to buy groceries for when I shopped at my grocery store. There's also the older Hispanic man with an injury often in the parking lot at that store. Let them all be the first line recipients!


Tal Shaya
Registered user
another community
on May 2, 2021 at 6:55 pm
Tal Shaya, another community
Registered user
on May 2, 2021 at 6:55 pm

The money is for COVID relief, and as such comes out of my pocket and yours. It's a clear misappropriation of funds to serve the mayor's pet program. Let me tell you why guaranteed income is a disincentive to work. When the recipient earns enough, they are disqualified from the program. A person on this program would never take a part-time job for 10-20 hours per week. When you pile the free benefits on top of unemployment insurance, there is a clear incentive to stay unemployed.

We created an artificial economy with sky-high living rates, and a caste of poor, illegal immigrants to serve it. Stop patting yourselves on the back. I'm sorry but it's still human trafficking. If you want to HELP people, find them jobs.


Mr. T
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on May 3, 2021 at 7:57 am
Mr. T, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on May 3, 2021 at 7:57 am

Is employment a condition for receiving this? If not then it's another share the wealth disincentive for working.


sonnyt650
Registered user
Castro City
on May 3, 2021 at 8:12 am
sonnyt650, Castro City
Registered user
on May 3, 2021 at 8:12 am

I just scanned through that SIME/DIME link posted by Bruce Karney, correlates nicely to what I experienced growing up in the late 70's and 80's. To be up front and honest I don't view city government spending to be suitable as a lifeline for those within the borders, at most it should be a helping hand. I've lived in Mountain View nearly my entire life passing the half-century residency mark in a couple of years, and my youth involved handouts (call them what they are) to my low income family in the form of community swimming pool vouchers and school food lunch programs. I think city taxes for charitable intent are better spent on similar programs which encourage or enforce specific uses rather than as a blank check payout for which no results are guaranteed. Last I heard those old programs are still in effect, and in fact the school lunch programs at the height of the pandemic showed their value. I'd prefer strengthening them rather than gambling (again calling it what it is) that some form of UBI will buck the trend of the study results shown in SIME/DIME.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on May 3, 2021 at 10:42 am
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on May 3, 2021 at 10:42 am

I get that championing UBI will look great in a 2022 political campaign. But If , as the council member claims, "UBI programs now have a track record of success across the country", what's the point of yet another pilot? Shouldn't it be time to move to a UNIVERSAL basic income program?
And if all the City can afford is another pilot, there are probably better uses for American Recovery Act funds that would help more residents financially affected by the pandemic get back in the labor market. For example, free transit passes, free childcare or even free ebikes... for lower income residents.


Raymond
Registered user
Monta Loma
on May 3, 2021 at 3:01 pm
Raymond , Monta Loma
Registered user
on May 3, 2021 at 3:01 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Bob Smith
Registered user
Jackson Park
on May 3, 2021 at 7:28 pm
Bob Smith, Jackson Park
Registered user
on May 3, 2021 at 7:28 pm

Why do UBI in a city where Median house hold income is 140k (source: census.gov). How about we try to tackle the housing issues instead, or increase wellfare assistance programs for those who actually need the money.


Dan Waylonis
Registered user
Jackson Park
on May 4, 2021 at 2:34 pm
Dan Waylonis, Jackson Park
Registered user
on May 4, 2021 at 2:34 pm

Thanks Bruce Karney for some actual tested data. I, too, am a fan of the Negative Income tax. It helps people and doesn't disincentivize people from seeking their own success. I'd like to see all of our assistance programs rolled into one monthly payment that individuals and families can use to their discretion.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on May 4, 2021 at 2:38 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on May 4, 2021 at 2:38 pm

This ARA funded money does not come out of my pocket or yours, it is the commuities to spend - on what the community (through it's elected representive legislature - Council) decides to spend it on. Or - it's federally borrowed money that will be mainly paid off by our kids!

I don't need the ARA money myself!


Polomom
Registered user
Waverly Park
on May 5, 2021 at 8:49 am
Polomom, Waverly Park
Registered user
on May 5, 2021 at 8:49 am

Our restaurants on Castro cannot find help to run their operations smoothly. Between unemployment and the stimulus payments the individuals formerly employed by our restaurants don't see an incentive to come back. How are we administering this $ 1 Mill. and prevent more disinterest in actual paid jobs? Tal Shaya, you are right....


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