Basic Income Guarantee: A Pilot in Hudson | The Future Is Now | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Lifestyle » The Future Is Now

Basic Income Guarantee: A Pilot in Hudson

by

Last Updated: 07/01/2020 11:11 am
1 comment

Despite a downward trend in coronavirus cases in several states and a rush toward reopening, Americans are reeling from the economic damage dealt by the pandemic. Total unemployment claims continue to pile up and some experts predict the recession that officially began in February will be disastrous, outlasting the pandemic itself.

With state coffers strapped for cash, the federal government stepped in to help with the CARES Act in March, which overhauled unemployment benefits nationwide and doled out direct relief checks to millions. While many are still waiting for their first relief check, politicians from both parties are calling for a second round of direct checks to citizens, and then some.

But for the City of Hudson, the economic downturn presents the perfect litmus test for a new iteration of a radical concept with old roots. This September, the small community on the east bank of the Hudson River is set to join several other American cities that are home to a universal basic income pilot program.

economy_--_ubi--30709507_2115419545359761_4213606665359982592_o.jpg

Twenty low-income residents in the city of over 6,700 will be given direct payments of $500 a month with no strings attached for the next five years via the HudsonUP program, a collaboration between the Spark of Hudson community center and former 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang's nonprofit, Humanity Forward. Yang made universal basic income—essentially direct money transfers for all—a core tenet of his longshot presidential bid, touting it as a solution for widening income inequality and the growing automation in the workforce. But the idea was far from obscure.

"Only the last few years is where it really seemed like a boom, because the Great Recession lasted for a really long time," says Karl Widerquist, an economist and expert in UBI at Georgetown University's Qatar campus. "Even when the economy was picking up, employment wasn't and wages weren't." Even though versions of the concept have been tossed around for centuries, many credit 18th-century English writer and revolutionary Thomas Spence for formulating a basic income model in his 1797 text The Rights of Infants. Public interest in UBI tends to spike during times of great economic and social upheaval, such as the 1920s to `30s (Great Depression and World War II) and the late `60s to early `70s (Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement), Widerquist adds.

Now the third wave of support is brewing thanks to small-scale projects from private investors with ties to the tech industry who have the funds and optimism to try it out.

The Spark of Hudson founders Susan Danziger and Albert Wenger found themselves captivated by the concept after hearing their colleagues in the tech sector wax poetic about the ways it could improve the lives of many who are struggling financially. When COVID-19 made its way to Columbia County earlier this year, Danziger and Wenger launched a community wellness fund that dispensed $500 payments to 63 Hudson families trying to get by.

"For instance, there was one woman whose car had just broken down so she couldn't go to work," Danziger explains. "This money paid to repair her car. Had we just given money for the food program, that wouldn't have helped her." Over the next half-decade, the couple will help the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood with logistics and tracking the long-term effects of the pilot UBI program.

Past basic income experiments in larger cities like Stockton, California, have not only lessened the strain on people's wallets, but also their minds. Since February of 2019, organizers at the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) have kept track of the economic and emotional benefits that their $500 monthly payments have had on the 125 residents in the program. The additional money made headaches like car maintenance and staying on top of bills easier to deal with. "Their minds aren't racing at night in the same ways," says Sukhi Samra, the director of SEED. "They're less stressed, they're less anxious. They're able to show up as better people—better spouses, better parents. That's something that we've heard a lot."

Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson is hopeful that the small injection of cash into his residents' lives will have similar outcomes. His excitement for the program grew when the team at SEED shared its positive findings with him during the planning stages of the HudsonUP program. "I wanted to take chances, so when I got this opportunity to work with this project, I was extremely excited," Johnson says. For his constituents, almost a quarter of whom were living at or below the poverty line pre-COVID, the timing of it all couldn't be better.

The HudsonUP program is currently meeting with various institutional stakeholders in the city and will be hosting a series of town hall meetings with the public in the near future. By early fall, the selected participants will most likely receive payments through a combination of in-person and online banking options to better align with continued calls for social distancing.

Dalvin Aboagye is a freelance writer who covers the Hudson Valley for the River Reporter and the River.

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

 

Add a comment

Latest in Lifestyle

  • Orange County Chamber of Commerce: Meeting the Needs of Businesses Large and Small
  • Orange County Chamber of Commerce: Meeting the Needs of Businesses Large and Small

    From hip and happening Newburgh to historic West Point and quaint and cozy Warwick, Orange County is home to a robust community of businesses and organizations of all sizes. Providing county-wide support and resources for such disparate voices may seem like a difficult job, but it’s one that Heather Bell-Meyer, newly appointed President and CEO of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, is approaching with energy and enthusiasm for the future after the last year of the pandemic.
    • Jun 18, 2021
  • Celebrate Pride Month in the Hudson Valley with These Events
  • Celebrate Pride Month in the Hudson Valley with These Events

    From parades to art exhibits and maskerade roller disco for youth, here's a handful of events to celebrate Pride Month throughout the Hudson Valley.
    • Jun 11, 2021
  • Stone Wave Yoga: Tending the Flame of Personal and Communal Wellness
  • Stone Wave Yoga: Tending the Flame of Personal and Communal Wellness

    In the summer of 2019, Liz Glover Wilson had just opened the second location of her burgeoning Gardiner yoga studio and wellness campus, Stone Wave Yoga, in Poughkeepsie. Like so many other small business owners in the Hudson Valley, she had no way of knowing that only months later her entire business would fundamentally change. With the pandemic’s economic and personal challenges constantly at her door, however, yoga remained the one thing that Glover Wilson knew she could count on. “A lot of the students who stayed with us this last year are hungry to learn more about the yoga tool kit because they’re seeing that it really does work,” she says.
    • Jun 5, 2021