With the pandemic dragging into its second year, the numbers of those living in poverty in Los Angeles remains stubbornly high. For residents like John Guevara, who has been unemployed for 13 months and receives no assistance because of his immigration status, the new program by Mayor Eric Garcetti could be a much needed lifeline.
Guevara was delighted when he first heard about the new project. If he qualifies, Guevara said, it would be the first time in 30 years that he would receive some kind of financial assistance
“This is a wonderful program because it will include the undocumented immigrant community who are also facing financial difficulties,” Guevara said.
Garcetti proposed the guaranteed basic income pilot project during his annual State of the City address on April 19. It would give $1,000 a month to 2,000 Los Angeles families at or below the federal poverty line for one year. The project would be the largest guaranteed basic income experiment in the U.S.
The initiative is a part of Garcetti’s recently established Equity and Justice Budget, which makes record-high investments in L.A.’s pandemic recovery response and lays out a progressive plan for racial and economic justice.
“We’re betting that one small but steady investment for Angeleno households will pay large dividends for health and stability across our city,” Garcetti said in his address. “And, more importantly, light a fire across our nation.”
The Mayor’s office is still developing a plan for selecting which households participate in the program. It will likely include households that support a minor and demonstrate medical or financial hardship related to the pandemic. It will also include all Angelenos, regardless of their immigration status, according to Garcetti.
Guevara explained that qualifying for the $1,000 would help him keep up with the rent payments, as he fell behind on some payments during his period of unemployment. It would also help him pay for other necessities like food, electricity, and water.
Guevara knows how hard it is for undocumented immigrants to find jobs, especially during the pandemic. Still waiting to see if he qualifies for Garcetti’s program, he remains optimistic about the benefits that it will provide.
Scot Obler, a board member of A Better LA— an organization that promotes the well-being of vulnerable L.A. communities—believes this program is designed to help those who really need it, unlike the stimulus checks. Even those who are financially stable received the checks.
Obler also explained that the program could provide “potential long-term benefits like reduced crime, improved health, and decreased rates of homelessness that cost the government on the back end.”
According to Chris Ko, Vice President of Impact & Strategy at United Way of Greater Los Angeles, a non-profit dedicated to fighting the root causes of poverty, there’s evidence that guaranteed basic income improves children’s performance in school, helps families keep their housing, and provides increased economic mobility and resilience.
One recent example is when Stockton, California, launched a two-year guaranteed income program in 2019. The preliminary analysis found that most low-income recipients of monthly stipends were healthier and had an enhanced quality of life than members of a control group that did not receive the checks. The analysis also found that the residents who received monthly checks moved into full-time work at twice the rate of the control group.
“We applaud Mayor Garcetti for establishing this pilot and we look forward to seeing its results grow and hopefully watching it expands,” Ko said.
However, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the project.
Timothy Watkins Sr., President and Chief Executive Officer of Watts Labor Community Action Committee, a non-profit community-based organization that aims to improve the quality of life for South Central Los Angeles residents, is not opposed to Garcetti’s project but has mixed feelings about it.
“Of course I think that the one-year program to provide guaranteed income to 2,000 families is a good system for temporary relief, the caveat is the ‘temporary,’” Watkins said. “I think that the more that we use welfare solutions to solve the problem of poverty in South L.A. and L.A. in general, the longer we delay getting to the real solutions.”
Guaranteed basic income is not a new concept, but it has recently gained media traction with the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affects low-income communities who are more likely to be exposed to the virus.
More than one in five LA residents live in poverty, making L.A. one of the poorest big cities in the nation. Last year in LA, more than 400,000 workers lost their jobs and about 7,500 small businesses saw their doors close for good according to one economic survey.
Garcetti’s project will function alongside Councilman Curren Price’s pilot program that begins this summer, which will give 500 single-parent households $1,000 every month in the South LA district. The $6 million used for this project was allocated from cut funding from the LAPD’s budget.
If successful, Garcetti’s pilot project will show that direct cash assistance independent from work requirements is a viable solution for financially assisting communities in need. It will also serve as a baseline for future guaranteed basic income initiatives.