In the city of Compton, one in five residents lives in poverty, double the national average. Since the pandemic began, the unemployment rate has risen from about 7% to more than 20%. But a select group will have a chance to get help reversing those trends, as part of a pilot program called the Compton Pledge that will aim to assist 800 people through no-strings-attached direct cash payments over two years.
Compton mayor Aja Brown recently announced the guaranteed income pilot, in partnership with the Jain Family Institute, a nonprofit research institution, and the charity Fund for Guaranteed Income, which is set to start in late 2020. The exact amount received by each participant will vary, but they will all get “at least several hundred dollars” (parents of multiple children will receive larger amounts). The Compton Pledge has already raised more than $2.5 million in private donations, all of which will go to the Fund for Guaranteed Income, which will then move those funds to the 800 recipients. Ultimately, the Compton Pledge aims to raise $8.1 million.
The idea of a universal basic income—unconditional, recurring cash payments given directly to citizens—is not new, but it’s been gaining traction in recent years. Brown told the Los Angeles Times that she had been aware of the concept and was able to see it in action through the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, a pilot program that began in February 2019 and that gave $500 a month to 125 Stockton residents over 18 months. When those residents began receiving regular direct payments, they used the no-strings-attached money for food, clothes, and utility bills, and reported feeling less stressed and having an improved quality of life.
The 800 cash recipients of the Compton Pledge will be randomly picked from a “pre-verified” group of low-income residents. The pilot aims to reach “irregularly or informally employed” residents, immigrants of various legal status, service workers who have been denied a living wage, formerly incarcerated people, and others who have been marginalized by the existing benefit systems. A community council, made up of local organizations including One Fair Wage, My Brother’s Keeper, and Color Compton, will advise the program on how to best reach those residents.
Brown is a founding member of the Mayors for Guaranteed Income, a consortium of mayors (including Stockton mayor Michael Tubbs) who are advocating for a guaranteed income, and which launched in June 2020. By August, fundraising for the Compton Pledge was in the works.
The Compton Pledge bills itself as the largest guaranteed income initiative over such a long time period at the city level in the U.S., though it’s not clear if that’s measured in terms of participants or funds. The most well-known example of a UBI may be the Alaska Permanent Fund, a statewide program that gives residents up to $2,000 a year, depending on the state’s oil revenue, and Andrew Yang’s proposal to give Americans $1,000 a month when he ran for the Democratic presidential nominee. Around the world there have also been UBI pilot programs in Kenya, Spain, and Finland.
Brown, who was raised by a single mother, said in a statement that she knows a guaranteed income could have helped her family through tough times, and she hopes it will for Compton residents. “I know that guaranteed income could give people a moment to navigate their situation, and have some breathing room to go back to school, explore a new career path, spend time with their children, or improve their mental and emotional wellbeing,” she said. “Ensuring all people are able to live with dignity is something we should all strive for in America.”
Correction: This article has been updated to note that 100% of the donated funds will be given to the trial participants, and to note that while other UBI trials have had more participants, this is the largest and longest one at the municipal level.