Andrew Yang’s presidential run ended in February, but Assemblymember Evan Low is trying to bring one of Yang’s key issues to life in California: Universal basic income.
Low, who was Yang’s national campaign co-chair, recently introduced a bill in the state Assembly that would provide $1,000 a month to many California residents in an effort to address financial disparities and “rewrite the rules of the economy.”
“People like you and I cannot afford to live in the community that we work — that’s a fact — but we are hard-working Californians just like everyone else,” the South Bay legislator told San José Spotlight. “California universal basic income could help issues of housing, health care or food security, or help people pay the rent, pay their mortgages or whatever they need to.”
Assembly Bill 2712, which is similar to a proposal Yang touted during his presidential campaign, would be funded through a 10 percent tax on goods and services, with exceptions including medicines, clothing and groceries. The bill is tentatively scheduled for a committee hearing on March 22.
Jeffrey Buchanan, Working Partnerships’ director of public policy, said the bill would address the symptom of poverty, not the cause. He said addressing working conditions — from family-supporting wages to the ability to negotiate better pay and benefits — would be a more efficient way to deal with economic inequality.
“As we look forward to the future of our economy, certainly it makes more sense to us that we should be really thinking about job quality and ensuring that workers have a voice,” he said. “Particularly here in Silicon Valley, as we have trillion-dollar companies emerging in the technology industry. That’s the first place to start.”
Buchanan also said the bill limits access to many low-income residents, with exclusions for people receiving benefits through programs like Medi-Cal, CalFresh, CalWORKs and unemployment insurance. Those exclusions could change, however, as the bill works its way through the Legislature.
Lawrence Quill, a political theory professor at San Jose State University, expressed doubt that a universal basic income could solve the issues proponents say it would tackle, like eviction and unemployment.
“I don’t think we have any evidence to support that at the moment. Earlier experiments (in Ontario and Finland) did not show those results,” Quill told San Sosé Spotlight. “The bigger problem with UBI, however, is that it seems like a silver bullet; a technological fix for complex and far-reaching social issues.”
Quill also worries about how the program would be sustained overtime, what debts the government would incur and if $1,000 would even help residents, especially in the costly Bay Area. But the bill is in the very beginning stages of the legislative process, Quill acknowledged, lawmakers still have time to address these issues.
“The problem (and attraction) of UBI is that it seems to say something very simple and compelling, and to promise a solution to some terribly pressing problems,” Quill said. “It claims a lot of supporters from across the political spectrum, but nobody can then agree what UBI actually is, how much it will cost or how it could be done.”
But Low, a Democrat who grew up in Silicon Valley, said the unconditional stipend to most Californians 18 and older would be a sweeping approach to tackling high costs of living, low wages, homelessness and crime.
“I think it’s crazy that we’re not making any changes and reforms, and we’re setting up everyday Californians for failure and not success,” he said.
Not far from Silicon Valley, the city of Stockton is experimenting with a universal basic income program by giving 125 residents a payout of $500 per month for 18 months. Early data from the project, spearheaded by Mayor Michael Tubbs, show 43 percent of the recipients are working full or part time jobs, and 40 percent of the money tracked was used for food.
Editor’s Note: Derecka Mehrens, executive director of Working Partnerships USA, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.