Nov 10, 2021 - News

Atlanta experiments with guaranteed income programs

Illustration of a ladder with hundred-dollar bills on the rungs.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

How could a monthly $800 check change your life?

Atlanta may soon find out as it tests two guaranteed income pilot programs, including one of the largest such tests of the program in the South.

Why it matters: The initiative, led by City Council member Amir Farokhi, is at the tail-end of fundraising cash from local and national donors and is scheduled to start its work next year.

  • Unlike universal basic income, which gives cash to everyone, guaranteed income programs focus on specific groups of people.

The privately funded program’s first phase would provide as many as 300 Black women living on low incomes in the Old Fourth Ward $800 a month for two years, no strings attached to spend on whatever they need, such as groceries, rent, medical bills or child care. Others might receive a lump sum payment to make a larger purchase like a downpayment on a car to get to work.

  • Participants don’t have to agree to any workshops, classes or training, though such resources will be made available if requested. Farokhi hopes to see the program expand to metro Atlanta and rural Georgia.

What they're saying: “So much of being poor is having to jump through a bunch of hoops to get any sort of benefit,” Farokhi told Axios. “The people with the greatest need know best how to allocate resources provided to them. The money is yours. You spend it as you see fit.”

Farokhi also told Axios that prior to the pandemic, some people expressed some resistance about guaranteed income. Post-pandemic, however, he says that pushback has diminished.

  • "Because so many folks got direct cash payments to sustain themselves, I think there’s a much different appreciation for what a monthly check can do to create a basic level of security,” Farokhi told Axios.

Go deeper: In addition to Farokhi's guaranteed income program, today the Atlanta City Council's finance/executive committee will take up a proposal spearheaded by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to launch a $2.5 million citywide guaranteed income pilot program.

  • Called IMPACT (Income Mobility Program for Atlanta Community Transformation), the initiative will be available for anyone who is 18 years and older, lives in the city limits and earns up to 200% of the federal poverty level per year — or $25,760 for a single-person household. The city estimates the program should benefit more than 275 families.
  • Bottoms’ proposal includes a $500,000 contribution from an organization called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, which includes Bottoms and mayors like Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Levar Stoney of Richmond and London Breed of San Francisco.

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