News & Opinion | November 10, 2017 9:00 am

A California Town Plans to Give Residents $500 a Month, No Strings Attached

Can 'universal basic income' help rebuild a whole city?

A couple of years ago, Time called Stockton, California “America’s most miserable city.”

Now, under the leadership of 27-year-old mayor Michael Tubbs, Stockton is on the verge to be the first U.S. city to experiment with universal basic income (UBI), a social security that would provide unconditional cash payments to everyone.

While other places have dabbled with the concept of UBI (including nearby Oakland), they’ve all been private programs. Tubbs’ project — which has already secured $1 million in funding from the tech industry–linked Economic Security Project — will be regulated by the city government and all information gleaned from it will be reported publicly.

If Tubbs’ plan is implemented, the Stockton Economic-Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) would offer as many Stockton residents as possible $500 per month to be used how they see fit with no restrictions. Ideally rolling out in the second half of 2018, SEED is currently evaluating the number of citizens who will participate in the program and how they will be selected.

In addition to helping the struggling city get back on its feet, the program will help the Economic Security Project collect more data about UBI can work locally as well as potentially across the United States as a whole.

“Our goal in providing this grant is to explore and learn from the impact of these cash transfers — and the economic security they provide — in the lives of Stockton residents,” ESP co-chair Natalie Foster wrote in a Medium post. “At this point in our journey, we believe unconditional cash has the power to end systemic poverty and rebuild the middle class. And now, Mayor Michael Tubbs and his team will lead the way.”

Will it work? That’s hard to say. 

Currently, all eyes are on a small-scale UBI experiment in Finland for answers. 

Perhaps it’s time to look to Stockton.