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Long Beach Mayor Plans Universal Basic Income Experiment

A participant in Stockton's universal basic income trial program displays the city provided debit card through which she receives a $500 monthly stipend. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia has announced plans to give money — no strings attached — to a select group of city residents.

The idea is to study the effects of a so-called “universal basic income,” a policy favored by some economists for tackling high poverty rates and pushed heavily during the Democratic Presidential primaries by Andrew Yang.

“I’ve asked the City Council to join our efforts, hire an equity specialist to manage the program, and begin designing the pilot,” Garcia tweeted on Tuesday.

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There aren’t many details yet. And Garcia said it could take until late 2021 for Long Beach to launch its pilot program. In the meantime, he said the city will seek philanthropic funding and work on outlining a framework for the program.

Once it’s up and running, Garcia said the city’s program would track how participants spend these direct, ongoing payments. Would they use the money to pay rent? To get out of debt? To buy healthier food?

Long Beach would be following in the footsteps of cities like Stockton, where 125 residents have been getting $500 per month since early 2019. Early results there indicate people are spending much of the money on basic necessities like food, household goods, clothing and utilities.

Garcia said these efforts are more important than ever, due to the widening economic inequality brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, especially for people of color.

“By the time these pilots launch, hopefully the pandemic will be over,” he said. “But certainly the economic effects won't be.”

Other California mayors have expressed interest in this idea, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Compton Mayor Aja Brown. Along with Garcia, they’ve joined an initiative called Mayors For A Guaranteed Income.

Garcetti’s office said staffers are in the early phases of exploring a similar program for L.A., although it did not provide a timeline.

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