Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Inches Toward Universal Basic Income

Proposal will create a framework, needs philanthropic support.

By - Jan 21st, 2020 01:55 pm
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Chantia Lewis Inauguration Speech (Photo by City of Milwaukee)

Chantia Lewis Inauguration Speech (Photo by City of Milwaukee)

The Milwaukee Common Council continues to push forward a proposal to provide 50 impoverished families a universal basic income of $500 per month. The council voted 10-5 Tuesday morning to request that the Department of Administration (DOA) create a framework for a pilot program.

But the hard work remains: raising $450,000 in private donations to fund the program.

First introduced in the 2020 budget debate, the propeosal by Alderwoman Chantia Lewis relies entirely on philanthropic support.

Participating families in the 18-month program would need to be meet certain income restrictions, live in the city and consent to having the city monitor how they spend the money. Funds would be provided on a debit card.

The proposal is modeled after a program launched in Stockton, California in early 2019. The alderwoman said she would work with the DOA to ensure Milwaukee’s program takes the best from Stockton’s, but is uniquely suited for Milwaukee. It would also borrow from Alaska’s Permanent Fund program that provides annual grants to every state resident from the sale of mineral rights.

Lewis said the early results from the Stockton proposal show people don’t spend the money frivolously. An ongoing independent audit of Stockton’s progam shows that, broadly categorized, participants have used their funds on food (36 percent), sales/merchandise (22 percent), utilities (11 percent), auto care (10 percent), services (eight percent), medical (three percent), insurance (three percent), transportation (three percent), self care/recreation (three percent), education (one percent) and donations (one percent). The Stockton program has found that less than one percent has been spent on alcohol or tobacco each month.

But that tracking represents only 60 percent of the funds awarded in Stockton. The audit of the Stockton program has found that approximately 40 percent of the funds loaded onto the debit cards have been transferred off. Interviews with participants reveal that participants didn’t trust the program and wanted cash, preferred cash as their primary spending method or transferred the money to another card.

Council members Mark Borkowski, Nikiya Dodd, Robert Donovan, Michael Murphy and Scott Spiker voted against the proposal. “I definitely want to give accolades to my colleague for taking on this action,” said Dodd before the vote. “Unfortunately I will not be supporting [the proposal].”

Ald. Robert Bauman publicly noted that Tuesday’s vote doesn’t create the program, instead just requests the department prepare a framework. “This will come back before the council for the final vote once we have gathered the experts around the table,” said Lewis.

Bauman, along with council members Khalif Rainey and Russell W. Stamper, II, asked to be added as a co-sponsor. They join Nik Kovac, Milele A. Coggs and Cavalier Johnson.

Lewis said that she and the Department of Administration would seek to raise philanthropic support.

For more on the proposal, see our coverage from January 9th.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

One thought on “City Hall: Council Inches Toward Universal Basic Income”

  1. jnor says:

    “Basic income,” yes. This is not “Universal Basic Income” simply because it is limited to some people and not others.

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