City launches task force to explore Universal Basic Income programs

San Francisco on Friday launched a guaranteed income task force that could lead to a pilot program where up to...

San Francisco on Friday launched a guaranteed income task force that could lead to a pilot program where up to 1,000 residents would receive at least $500 in unrestricted monthly payments.

The 11-member Guaranteed Income Advisory Group held its inaugural meeting to begin working on recommendations for how a pilot program should look in San Francisco, with an eye toward a long-lasting effort.

Guaranteed income, also known as universal basic income (UBI), is a model being tested in a growing number of jurisdictions for its potential to lift people out of a cycle of poverty, address income inequality and improve participants’ overall health.

San Francisco has recently launched some limited versions. A six-month guaranteed income pilot program that just finished receiving applications will give 130 local artists affected by the COVID-19 pandemic $1,000 monthly.

The task force, which was established by legislation adopted by the Board of Supervisors, is overseen by the Treasurer’s Office. There are six additional meetings scheduled, each with a particular theme, with the last in November to discuss its recommendations. A final report is due to the mayor and board by Dec. 1.

The legislation directs the body to address various issues for a pilot program with between 500 and 1,000 participants who would receive a minimum of $500 per month for unrestricted use.

Supervisor Matt Haney, who introduced the legislation, said guaranteed income programs are a way to address the inequality and poverty in San Francisco.

“I do believe it can be transformational,” Haney said. “It is one of the most powerful interventions that we can make and also one of the most simple.”

Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs launched a program in 2019 that provided 125 residents living in areas with a median income at or below $46,033 with $500 per month for 24 months.

A Preliminary analysis, released last month, found the unrestricted payments increased recipients’ employment prospects, improved health conditions including reducing anxiety and depression, and created financial stability. The study looked at the time period from February 2019 through February 2020.

Tubbs is now a champion of the effort around the country through his group Mayors for Guaranteed Income. He spoke to the task force about the issue.

“Everyone thought we were crazy,” Tubbs recalled when he first announced the program four years ago. “But now we have 50 mayors who have signed on to be part of Mayors for Guaranteed Income. We have pilots going on right now in about eight cities with about seven more coming online that are mayoral-led.”

Tubbs said that “everyone doesn’t have to have luxury,” but “no one should be hungry or not be able to provide for the basics needed to be fully human.”

Task force members said they wanted to explore the idea of providing different amounts of money depending on the specific need and situations of people, as well as more than the minimum in the legislation. They also want to figure out how to have a sustainable model.

“This is San Francisco, the most expensive city in the country,” said task force member Gloria Berry. “Five-hundred dollars in Stockton is different than $500 in San Francisco.”

Treasurer José Cisneros said he looked to the task force to “build something” beyond the pilots to effect long-lasting change.

“Just too many people simply don’t have enough money to make ends meet,” Cisneros said.

The task force will next meet on May 14 to look at the different efforts ongoing in San Francisco and other cities.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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