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Universal Basic Income Programs Gain Traction In More Cities, Republicans Disapprove

In Texas, cities like San Antonio, Austin, and Houston have been experimenting with the idea of UBI.

In recent years, more cities have experimented with guaranteed universal basic income (UBI), and those who have received funds said the programs have given them peace of mind.

As Business Insider reports, Ingrid Sullivan, a 48-year-old grandmother, is among the latest voices joining that refrain after San Antonio created a guaranteed basic income program in 2020.

Sullivan told the outlet, “My life was always just a couple hundred dollars short. For the first time, I can breathe.”

She continued, “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, this is extra money.’ This was money that filled a hole that wasn’t there.”

Universal Basic Income policy was first seriously proposed to answer the holes in the social safety net during Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s. According to Karl Widerquist, the author of Universal Basic Income, several Canadian studies in the 1970s painted a positive picture of the program. In America, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and the Child Tax Credit bear some resemblance to UBI. Widerquist notes in his book that the central difference between those programs and UBI is that they have requirements and UBI does not. The lack of requirements is the part of the UBI pilot programs that most appeals to Sullivan and others who have received payments.

The current wave of UBI policies is coming from a more leftist position, so Republicans are less charitable about supporting programs they characterize as “socialist” and “insane.”

In Texas, cities like San Antonio, Austin, and Houston have been experimenting with the idea of UBI, and research has indicated that the programs can benefit low-income families. Rachel Kimbro, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences and dean of the School of Social Sciences at Rice University, co-authored a study examining the use of school-based food distribution by Black low-income mothers. 

According to the study’s conclusion, “Respondents favored the flexibility and practicality of cash assistance. As the women in our study were already experts in stretching food resources, direct cash assistance amplified existing strategies while food distributions introduced new complications.”

The Republican argument against UBI is similar to the arguments they have made against welfare programs in the past. Arizona Rep. John Gillette told Business Insider that he believed the programs would make people lazy. “Is money a birthright now? Do we just get born and get money from the government? Because I think the Founding Fathers would say that is very contrary to our capitalist system and encouraging people to work.”

Gillette continued, “You get out, you get a job, you make money, you pay taxes, you live the American dream,” Gillette said. “We were never designed to have the federal government supply a salary.”

Sarah Cowan, an associate professor of sociology and the executive director of the Cash Transfer Lab at New York University, told Houston Landing that UBI programs are not about a lack of work ethic but freedom of choice.

“The idea behind guaranteed income is that it’s simpler for everyone involved, and then it gives families more autonomy to solve their unique problems with their unique set of resources,” Cowan said. “It’s trusting families to know what they need in order to thrive.”

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