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Mayor Elorza commits to universal basic income pilot program for Providence in 2021

“We believe that fundamentally, people are poor because they don’t have money. So if we’re serious in this country about addressing poverty, then let’s address it in the most direct and effective way possible. Let’s give them the means to direct their own future.”



Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza joined Mayors For A Guaranteed Income (MGI) on a press call Tuesday to announce a second grant of $15m from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. This builds on Dorsey’s initial donation of $3 million in July. These new funds are being allocated to launch or expand guaranteed income pilots in United States cities across the country. MGI advocates for a universal basic income (UBI) – direct, recurring cash payments to people in need

“We’re working with several community stakeholders right now and designing the program, and we’re hoping to launch anywhere between March 1 and July 1,” said Mayor Elorza.

Prefacing his remarks saying that he hopes this work will inspire other mayors, governors and the federal government to take UBI on as a statewide and national priority, Mayor Elorza said that “What we want to do with this guaranteed income program is help people get a leg up. People are working two and three jobs. They’re working in the gig economy, and this is having an incredible toll on our families – from taking them away from family time with their kids to taking them away from an associates degree at a community college… or skipping out on investments in themselves or their families that they otherwise would make.”

Financial stress “is levying a heavy psychological burden and toll on so many of our families. What we want to do is lighten that burden and lighten that toll as much as possible,” continued Mayor Elorza.

“We believe that fundamentally, people are poor because they don’t have money. So if we’re serious in this country about addressing poverty, then let’s address it in the most direct and effective way possible. Let’s give them the means to direct their own future.”

St Paul Mayor Melvin Carter had earlier noted that opposition to the program too often takes the form of racist tropes “that say if you give ‘those people money, here’s what they’ll do with it.'”But based on evidence gathered during pilot programs, Mayor Carter says “that when low-income people have a little bit more money at the end of the month, they pay rent. They buy groceries. They get a car fixed up or get a bus card so they can get to work. They do things that benefit ou entire community.”

Mayor Elorza agreed. “We also commit to doing this in a way that trusts in the individuals receiving it, an approach that is based primarily on the fundamental dignity and freedom of every individual,” said Mayor Elorza. “As Mayor Carter has said, there are unfortunately a number of unfortunate and racist tropes around this issue. We don’t slap these kinds of requirements and these kinds of restrictions on how other institutions spend their dollars, yet somehow, as a society, we have lost faith and don’t rust poor people to do what’s right with their money.”

Elorza agreed that the pilot programs demonstrated that “if you trust people, if you base your program on their individual dignity, they’re going to spend these dollars on the bare essentials. They’re going to spend these dollars immediately they’re not going to save these dollars over the long term, which means the money is going to be recycled in the local economy and benefits everyone in that community. And they’re going to be able to support their families in the way they know best…”

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The latest grant will accelerates the launch of guaranteed income pilots. For example: 

  • In Saint Paul, MN, Mayor Melvin Carter has launched and begun disbursements for People’s Prosperity Pilot, which will provide up to 150 Saint Paul families with $500 per month in guaranteed income for up to 18 months. 
  • Richmond, VA Mayor Levar Stoney has launched the Richmond Resilience Initiative, which will empower 18 working families to meet immediate needs and build wealth to break the cycle of poverty.
  • Mayor Aja Brown has launched the Compton Pledge giving 800 Compton residents a guaranteed income of varying amounts for a two-year period. 
  • Pittsburgh, PA, Mayor Peduto has announced the Assured Cash Experiment of Pittsburgh (AcePGH) will provide 200 residents with $500/month, for 24 months. Building on work by Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commission, AcePGH will serve 100 randomly selected Black women who are at or below 50% AMI. 
  • Columbia, SC Mayor Stephen Benjamin will provide 100 residents with $500/month, for 24 months through the CLIMB program. CLIMB will be targeted for black fathers, and recipients will be selected in partnership with the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition.
  • Oakland, CA Mayor Libby Schaaf announced a partnership with the Family Independence Initiative to work to secure funding to serve 300 families with children.

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.