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More than 48 programs have started nationwide since 2020, including a yearlong program in Los Angeles.
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Shortly after Michael Tubbs was elected in 2016, becoming the youngest person to ever serve as mayor of Stockton, he proposed an unconventional plan: giving unrestricted cash payments to the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Mr. Tubbs, now 32, learned about the concept of guaranteed income during his undergraduate studies at Stanford University. Once elected, he knew he wanted to apply it in the Central Valley city where he grew up.
During his first term, Stockton began the country’s first mayor-led guaranteed income program, offering $500-a-month payments to 125 residents for two years.
“When I first started working on this nearly five years ago, people called me crazy,” Tubbs told me recently. “Now unrestricted cash is seen as an impactful solution to income inequality.”
Since 2020, more than 48 guaranteed income programs have been started in cities nationwide, according to Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a network of leaders supporting such efforts at the local, state and federal levels.
The idea behind such programs is that providing unrestricted cash payments is the best way to close the wealth gap and give people the opportunity to build more stable lives, including offering them a buffer time of sorts to focus on finding higher paying, full-time employment. Opponents have argued that the programs encourage people not to work.
I recently wrote about how these programs are blanketing the nation, with California as the epicenter of the movement.
Last year, the state set aside $35 million to help fund local guaranteed income programs — the first statewide funding of its kind.
In Los Angeles, a pilot program funded primarily by the city has already begun giving $1,000 a month to 3,200 low-income families. The pilot is slated to run for a year.
Oakland and San Diego have also recently moved ahead with programs, which are funded primarily with private money. Oakland’s will give 600 low-income families $500 for 18 months; San Diego’s will provide $500 a month for two years to several families with young children.
But questions remain about whether these programs can be expanded effectively.
An analysis from the Jain Family Institute, a nonprofit group that has studied several pilot programs, argues that the best path toward a national guaranteed income isn’t through scaling up pilots, but in reforming and expanding existing federal programs, such as the earned-income tax credit and the child tax credit.
“It does not make sense to take a municipal program and build it when there are already programs in place that can be reformed,” Stephen Nuñez, lead researcher on guaranteed income at the Jain Family Institute, told me.
Even so, the programs are pushing ahead at the local level.
Tubbs, who lost his re-election bid in 2020 and is now an adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom, a proponent of guaranteed income, says the approach is a critical tool in achieving racial and economic justice for Black people and Latinos.
“The ways in which racism and capitalism have intersected to steal wealth from some communities,” he said, “creates the disparities we see today.”
Kurtis Lee is an economics correspondent, based in Los Angeles.
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Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
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Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Soumya Karlamangla, Steven Moity and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at
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