A Guaranteed Income Pilot Program Could Be Coming to Gainesville

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$300. No strings attached.

That’s what showed up at Latammra Batie’s door in Gainesville in June, in the form of a hand-delivered check.

The money went straight toward her rent, calming fears of eviction. Since moving into her new apartment in March, different jobs have come and gone.

“By them giving me the rest of my rent money, that really gave me a sense of relief,” Batie said.

That money’s gone now, collected by her landlord. Now every new month brings new questions, a search for a new job or hustle.

To turn that feeling of temporary relief into a constant, Community Spring, the organization behind the $300, is working with Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe to develop a full-scale guaranteed income pilot for families in need.

Max Tipping, 32, is the policy director for Community Spring, an anti-poverty nonprofit. The $300 Batie received was a part of CS Direct, a cash-assistance program that distributed one-time payments to 128 households from June to October 2020.

The program’s purpose was to give people the flexibility to use the money as they pleased, Tipping said. In a report of the program’s findings, Community Spring found that 77% of the recipients felt more empowered to make the best decisions for their families, with many splitting the money between things like rent, utilities and food.

“You have the autonomy and the power to decide where that money goes,” Tipping said.

Many of the recipients thought the program was a scam at first. Tipping described how building pillars of trust and community are essential for future programs. He said he believes a steady, basic income would give folks who are moving from crisis to crisis some room to breathe.

“It doesn’t solve every problem,” Tipping said. “But it makes things a little less frantic.”

Mayor Lauren Poe took notice of Community Spring’s work in July and connected with the group after one of its Zoom forums. Discussions on what a pilot would look like are still in early stages, but Tipping said he hopes the monthly payments exceed $300.

Poe said he was inspired after seeing the work of former Stockton, California, Mayor Michael Tubbs, who founded the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration in 2017. This was the first mayor-led guaranteed income pilot in the country, providing 125 Stockton residents with $500 per month for 24 months. Final payments were distributed Jan. 15.

In addition to starting work on a Gainesville pilot, Poe said he’s been reaching out to mayors in neighboring cities, encouraging them to do the same.

“I think most people believe that every human being deserves to live a very secure and safe life,” he said.

Poe is the first Florida mayor to join Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a coalition of mayors across the country advocating for guaranteed income pilots in their cities. The organization was also founded by Michael Tubbs.

Sukhi Samra, 25, is the director of both Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and the Stockton Economic Empowerment Distribution. Since MGI’s inception in June, its number of mayors has shot from 11 to 35.

Launched in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Samra said the organization is focused on showing the ways that racial justice and economic justice intersect.

On Dec. 8, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced a $15 million donation to MGI. This money ensures every mayor who proceeds with a pilot program, including Poe, will receive a grant of up to $500,000, Samra said.

She said MGI would love to get a mayor in each state, but that the end goal is ultimately to compile enough data to justify a national guaranteed or universal basic income policy.

“In the long term, that’s really where the dollars are,” she said.

As of publication, all of MGI’s mayors are Democrats. Samra said she hopes to get Republican mayors in the mix soon.

“Economic insecurity and poverty are not partisan issues,” she said. “They affect everyone.”

Bryant Sculos, a visiting assistant professor of global politics and political theory at Worcester State University, has written about the function of universal basic income.

With buy-in from prominent figures on both the right and the left, Sculos sees the idea as a gateway to expanding the public perception of our current economic system. In times of crisis, when people look for help only to receive none, Sculos believes there’s only one natural conclusion for them to make.

“People feel, rightly I think, that society doesn’t care about whether they make ends meet,” he said.

Sculos said he sees guaranteed income pilots as important for dispelling myths that “if you give people any amount of money that they didn’t earn, that society’s just gonna disintegrate.” He said he thinks facts and evidence can still sway those who are on the fence about the issue.

The aspects of community buy-in and organization are an essential component as well. To Sculos, the collective struggle toward implementing a national universal basic income, even if it’s unsuccessful, will still empower communities to push for change and create an impact.

Latammra Batie received her $300 CS Direct check in June 2020. Since then, it’s been a struggle to make rent. (Thomas Holton/WUFT News)

Batie, the Gainesville woman who received the $300 at a crucial point in 2020, is familiar with empowering her community.

In the midst of her application process for CS Direct, she began work with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, an organization dedicated to ending the disenfranchisement of people with convictions.

As a felon herself, Batie worked there alongside her cousin, assisting with voter registration efforts. Now that the election is over and that job is on hiatus, both have been forced to look elsewhere for work. Batie’s cousin found a job at Steak ‘n Shake, something Batie wants to get in on as well.

“I said, ‘Well, put me in coach!’” she said, laughing. “I want to go to work too.”

She said her biggest fear is homelessness, of bouncing around from place to place.

“When you stay with other people, they do you any kind of way,” she said.

Batie still has car issues to figure out, coupled with a constant struggle to maintain her mental health. With a consistent income, she said she wouldn’t have to worry as much about how to make her next move.

“I’d be able to be OK,” she said. “And I like being OK.”

One of the 128 CS Direct recipients receives her check in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Community Spring)

About Thomas Holton

Thomas is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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