Following up on Rochester’s Guaranteed Basic Income Program

Guaranteed Basic Income

The News10NBC Team details breaking News, Traffic and Weather.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — “Free money” sounds too good to be true. But for 351 Rochester residents, that’s exactly what they’ve been getting from the city for months. 

Rochester launched its year-long Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) pilot last fall. It gives $500 a month to 351 individuals, no strings attached. There are no spending or work requirements.

Mayor Malik Evans said the goal is not to carve out a space for guaranteed income in the city budget. Instead, the goal is to prove to private organizations that a program like this is an effective tool to fight poverty on a long-term scale. 

“We wanted to be able to demonstrate to the larger community — and to other funders who may want to fund programs like this in Rochester, in the future — to show this is the impact that an extra $500 a month for a year had on an individual, had on a family,” Evans said. “And I think this gave us the opportunity to do that.”

The city partnered with the University of Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities to research how people spend the money given to them, and what effect this has (if any) on creating a more stable financial situation long-term.

They’ll be using metrics like employment rates, spending patterns, housing stability, and physical and mental health. They’ll be comparing the findings to a control group that didn’t participate in the study, to determine success.

We already have some numbers on participants. Of those 63% are currently employed, and over half of the participants (and over half of all 16,000 qualified applicants) said they’d be interested in speaking with a financial advisor.

“People are really interested in charting a strong financial course for themselves regardless if they got picked for this program or not,” Evans said about the interest in financial advisors. 

One of the participants is Evans Buntley. Buntley works at Rochester General Hospital full time, but is still at or below 185% of the federal poverty level, so he qualified for the program. 

“It was like a blessing,” Buntley said. “It came in at the right time, it helped me out to accomplish things that I probably wouldn’t have been able to accomplish. [Rather], it would have a took a bit of time to get it done, but with this program Iwas able to get it done faster. And it helped me in every area I can think of, from rent to car payments to food, to other accessories that I needed — as small things laundry. Just getting things together, it really helps out.”

Again, Evans said he didn’t see a GBI program as feasible for government administration, out of concern that the taxpayer burden would be too high. Instead, he hopes this data will be useful to help private charities and nonprofits model their direct aid. 

Guaranteed Basic Income

The News10NBC Team details breaking News, Traffic and Weather.

Rochester’s second Guaranteed Basic Income program

The city’s GBI program isn’t the only one in town. Over in the private sector, New York City’s The Bridge Project just opened up. It gives first-time, low-income moms monthly payments for the first three years or so of a child’s life.

Similar to the city, there are no strings attached to this money. 

“We trust mothers to make the best decisions, and that’s why we don’t subscribe to, ‘Oh we really hope you spend the money on this, we really hope you spend the money on that.’ Here it is, we know you’re going to handle your own families needs, we trusty you,” Director of Operations Jessica Ramos Cuttone said.  

The Bridge Project is funded entirely through donations. They currently support about 1,200 moms in New York State, and are looking to go national as their first ever cohort phases out in New York City. Like Rochester, they too have a team of researchers working to prove that this money will have positive and long-term effects.

“This money is going to food, this money is going to baby items, this money is going to rent, back rent, sometimes to education,” Ramos Cuttone said. “We have really beautiful stories about how this money was used to help women escape domestic violence situations.”

So far, they’ve seen over 60% of moms in transitional housing move to something more stable. Over half of moms reported an increase in food security. And the entire first cohort’s savings increased by 240%. The control group saw a decrease of about a quarter for that same time period. 

As the group looks to expand, they hope to gain traction both in the private sector and in public policy. 

“We’re also hitting the ground running as far as — we know we can’t fund this completely with philanthropic dollars,” Ramos Cuttone said. “So we’re trying to see if we can extend this through government support – or – and you know we’re continuing to look for funding wherever we go.”

Concerns with Guaranteed Basic Income

Not everyone’s on board with the concept. Some in the community have concerns, especially for a government-administered initiative.

“You really only got two choices there on the cost — one is we’re either going to take money away from other programs,” Patrick Reilly with the Monroe County Republican Committee said. “Or number two, we raise taxes to pay for it. Neither of  those are a good option for our area. And it is the reason we continue to see people leave this area. And as they leave this area, the jobs leave this area, and it just starts to spiral and this sort of just feeds that spiral.”

Reilly said that he would be interested in a philanthropic initiative, but bringing public policy into it causes him and other conservatives concern. 

“[It’s] disincentivizing folks to go out and get a job,” he said. “We need them we need to increase the labor participation rate here in this area. And that disincentive — it just doesn’t make sense.”

Reilly said he and other conservatives are interested in a universal income as a catch-all to replace other social services — like SNAP. But he’d prefer it stay philanthropic. He also said he would like to see some changes in how these programs receive state funding.

Right now, Reilly says the metrics used to rate nonprofits success don’t account for organizations that help create self-sufficiency and financial independence. 

“The criteria applied to these grants [is], ‘How many people did you get enrolled in this program or that program?’ And if you actually bring people to the point where they don’t need these programs, its seen as a negative,” Reilly said. “And then reduces the funding your able to get to do those good works. So that’s something I think we need to look at both locally and at the state level.”