(Bret Davis, The Center Square) – Dr. Lori Pfingst, senior director of poverty reduction for the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, touted the feasibility and benefits of implementing guaranteed basic income in Washington state during a Friday hearing of the House Housing, Human Services & Veterans Committee.
Guaranteed basic income is a cash payment distributed to a targeted group of individuals or households that is recurring, unconditional, and unrestricted. It is meant to fill in cracks in existing public assistance programs.
That’s as opposed to a universal basic income model in which cash payments are distributed to all individuals. The closest thing to universal basic income in the U.S. is the Alaska Permanent Fund that pays an annual dividend from surplus revenue from oil and gas reserves to all eligible state residents.
“I want to outline, you know, the basic income conversation, which is happening nationally, is not happening in a vacuum,” Pfingst told the committee. “There is growing widespread recognition that even under the best circumstances when people are receiving almost everything that they are theoretically eligible for, there are still gaps and cliffs in public assistance programs.”
Guaranteed basic income is not a new idea, but has gained more attention in recent years.
“Research dates back to the 1970s, but the proliferation of research around basic income is really happening in the last five years,” Pfingst said. “There’s over 100 pilots operating in the United States at the local level.”
That includes Washington. For example, Growing Resilience In Tacoma, or GRIT, which gives a recurring monthly payment directly to households, is one of a handful of guaranteed basic income program experiments in the Puget Sound area.
Critics of guaranteed basic income contend that giving people cash will cause them to work less and that providing an income floor set at a reasonable level is, depending on how many people are part of the program, unaffordable.
Preliminary indications are encouraging, according to Pfingst. Poverty indicators have gone down and household spending has risen, mostly to pay for food. Other benefits she pointed out include an increase in full-time employment and parents spending more quality time with their children.
“So, this is what we know from the research: that giving people the thing they need the most, which is alleviating the stress associated with not having the ability to make ends meet, actually has good outcomes across the board,” Pfingst said.
A feasibility study by DSHS on a basic income program in Washington was released in June.
The study recommends a two-year pilot program focused on two groups: people below 100% of the federal poverty level and a control group, and low-income people between 100% and 200% of the federal poverty level plus a control group.
Participants would receive a percentage of Fair Market Rent – the amount of rent a property type is likely to receive in a particular area – as guaranteed income amounts.
The study includes estimates for 75%, 100%, and 120% of FMR for sample sizes of 5,000, 7,500, and 10,000.
Per the report, Garfield County is the least expensive county to live in in Washington. The range of monthly guaranteed income amounts there would be $587, $783, and $940, respectively.
In the state’s most expensive county to live in – King County – those figures would be $1,533, $2,044, and $2,453.
Public money spent on guaranteed basic income in Washington would be more than worth it, Pfingst said.
“This would be an up-front investment that, you know, clearly has a high dollar attached to it,” she said. “We know that if we stuck this through, research shows that for every dollar spent on just reducing child poverty yields a $7 return. And the reason is because there would be reduced homelessness, decreased involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and those children would grow up more likely to attend higher education, have higher earnings, and better health outcomes over time.”
Any guaranteed basic income pilot program would include a robust evaluation process, Pfingst assured the committee.