Compton launches largest Universal Basic Income program in country

It’s an idea that’s been gaining in popularity in social justice warrior circles for a while now and a few pilot programs have been attempted. Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the concept of ensuring that everyone has some basic level of income to meet their minimum needs even if they are unable or unwilling to work. And now it’s coming to the Compton neighborhood, located to the south of Los Angeles. This plan is being billed as the “largest universal basic income program in the nation.” That may be true, but there are more than a few details to iron out before they begin running up the victory flag. (CBS Los Angeles)

Compton is launching the nation’s largest universal basic income program, with plans to distribute regular cash payments to about 800 low-income residents for two years.

The Compton Pledge, which will be launched by the end of this year, will distribute cash relief to a pre-verified group of low-income Compton residents. Recipients will be kept anonymous and the program will be “rigorously evaluated” by an independent research team, who will report preliminary findings at six-month intervals.

Recipients will get to choose between multiple payment options, and residents who don’t have a current bank account will be provided with no-cost financial services, according to Compton city officials.

Right off the bat, this isn’t a “universal” program in any sense of the word. The pilot program will apply to 800 people in a city with a population of 95,000, 20% of which live below the poverty line. Payments will range between 300 and 600 dollars per month. I’m confident that could be a big help if you’re flat broke, but I’m pretty sure you can’t even rent a parking space near LA for 600 bucks a month.

How will they determine who will be getting the free money? All they’re saying is that the recipients have been “pre-verified.” Few details beyond that are offered beyond saying that they will all be persons of low income, with the formerly incarcerated and “immigrants of various legal status” eligible for participation. So some of the money will wind up going to illegal aliens while many actual citizens do without. Ah, well… it’s an imperfect world.

Participants will be able to choose from several methods of payment. Direct deposit or electronic transfer for those who have existing bank accounts or pre-paid debit cards for those who do not. The organizers claim that the program will be “rigorously evaluated,” but we’ve heard that before, specifically in the pilot program that ran in Stockton. As you may recall, the data collected in the Stockton experiment turned out to be essentially useless.

The saving grace of the Compton Pledge is that it’s not running on taxpayer money. It’s all coming from donations from a variety of sources, so how they choose to distribute their cash is up to them. But the one sticking point that a program like this always seems to run into is that it’s not a generally popular idea. Once you start trying to expand it and tax dollars get involved, people begin asking why some people receive the benefits and not others. They also point out that there are already many social safety net programs in place for the needy. And if we’re being honest, people who have had to work for a living all their lives wonder why someone who is “unwilling to work” should be getting a free ride.

Still, this is a very California idea from the sound of it. If it helps out a couple of hundred people who are down on their luck, more power to them. But as some sort of national or even statewide possibility, I simply don’t see it happening.