Guest Blog | BIG LEAP: Los Angeles Basic Income Pilot

“Basic Income Guaranteed: Los Angeles Economic Assistance Pilot,” or in short, BIG: LEAP, is officially in effect last week on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.  Our guest Paloma Henriques explains the program design, research plans, and its significance. 

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L.A. Basic Income Pilot Builds Off Success in Stockton

Paloma Henriques

In Los Angeles, 3,200 people were notified in January that they will receive $1,000 per month for one year, no strings attached, as part of the biggest U.S. basic income pilot to date, BIG:LEAP or Basic Income Guaranteed: Los Angeles Economic Assistance Pilot. Recipients will participate in surveys and interviews but will have no restrictions on how the direct payments will be spent. Applications were open from October 29 – November 7, 2021, to all Angelenos aged 18 and older who either have a dependent child or are pregnant, have income below the federal poverty line and have experienced COVID-19 hardships. Another group of 3,700 Angelenos, the control group in this social experiment, will not receive the monthly payments but will take the surveys. Comparing these two groups will allow researchers to differentiate between any effects of participation in the surveys from the effects of receiving the income.

The members of this study are contributing to a national data set built up, managed, and streamlined by the Center for Guaranteed Income at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Their first study, in Stockton, CA, laid the groundwork and developed a basic research methodology, and was successful in improving the lives of the participants. Erin Coltrera, a Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice and part of the Center’s leadership team, explains, “One of the advantages of having the Center be the evaluator is that we are standardizing a large amount of the data collection”. The data includes three other California cities (Oakland, San Diego, and an upcoming study in Mountain View) among over 30 pilots across the country, and builds off other projects including the Alaska Permanent Fund. The Center’s research examines how basic income affects lives in different contexts and when implemented in different ways.

BIG:LEAP was initiated by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is involved in Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, an advocacy group made up of mayors across the U.S. who are leading basic income pilots in their cities. The funding was initially allocated at $6 million and was then increased to $38.4 million. The University of Pennsylvania and the City of Los Angeles worked together to design the study within their budget and meet their concerns for their citizens, with the city adding an emphasis on learning whether basic income could help alleviate domestic violence. The surveys and interviews will be used to determine how the income is affecting recipients via a broad range of economic and social indicators and draws on different metrics, such as the Confusion, Hubbub, and Order Scale, to measure stress, wellbeing, and other social issues.

BIG:LEAP grew out of SEED, the Stockton experiment, but differs in several key ways. For one, it is on a much larger scale, with over 3000 participants and receiving $1000/month for one year, while Stockton had only 125 participants receiving $500/month for two years. In Stockton, the experiment included a passive control group and pre- and post-experiment assessments, mining data from the five years surrounding the experiment. The focus of the Los Angeles study is to produce timely results, so a passive control group was left out. The Stockton experiment also included survey questions via text message, which will not be implemented in Los Angeles. Both studies include storytelling components, where a group of recipients will have their voice elevated through media interviews, photographs, videos, and storytelling in order to communicate publicly the effects of basic income. These participants’ data will be separated out to make sure participating in the storytelling does not impact the results of the study. The Los Angeles study, though bigger scale, has less inclusive eligibility. In Stockton, participants were invited via census tracts based on median income, whereas in LA stricter criteria had to be met. Nevertheless, around 500,000 people were deemed eligible and 59,000 people applied during the application week last fall, many more than can be accommodated.

Ultimately the appetite to participate in basic income projects, whether as a recipient, a mayor, or a researcher, shows the growing interest around the idea, and the recognition that the social safety nets currently in place are not always effective or sufficient. At a federal level, Ilhan Omar has even introduced a bill to congress for a U.S.-wide basic income, the SUPPORT Act, that would pay $1200 to every adult and $600 to every child, regardless of current income. Erin Coltrera, of the Center for Guaranteed Income, expresses the excitement around the basic income movement: “what is phenomenal about this work is ultimately that there are so many people… willing to take a chance on basic income”. Erin sees this work not as a panacea, but as “part of an effective social safety net” that would need to include other policies and benefits as well in order to build a “better future for all of us”.

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Paloma Henriques is a graduate student at the University of Maine in the School of Marine Sciences and Climate Change Institute. Her contact information is paloma.henriques@maine.edu

Please consider becoming a member at USBIG or volunteering for us! USBIG is an all-volunteer group that focuses on compiling and sharing information about the Basic Income Guarantee. We welcome anyone interested in helping us with this mission to volunteer. For a guest blog, please contact the blog editor.

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