Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway speaks with activist M. Adams at a protest this summer. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)
The City of Madison will be developing a guaranteed income pilot program after receiving up to $500,000 through Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a national program of which Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is a member.
In a press conference Tuesday morning, Rhodes-Conway said her staff is working on developing a program to use the cash in a way that alleviates the city’s affordable housing crisis.
The $500,000 coming to Madison is a portion of a $15 million donation from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Rhodes-Conway joined the coalition of mayors in June 2020. Madison was one of the first 15 cities to join the group created by Stockton, Calif. Mayor Michael Tubbs and previously received $100,000 from the organization — giving the city access to $600,000 for the pilot.
“My staff here in Madison are already exploring options to pair a direct payments program with existing programs that support those that are housing insecure,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We’re hoping that by creating a direct payments program that centers housing, we will be able to explore the impacts of direct payments on those that struggle to obtain and retain affordable housing options in our city. We’re hoping this will contribute to the national conversation in the creation of a national guaranteed income program”
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Madison and I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of this group and a recipient of this funding but it’s also an incredible opportunity for our country,” she continued.
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A document released by the mayor’s office states the city’s program will aim to assist residents experiencing housing insecurity while not interfering with other assistance programs such as Section 8 vouchers or Medicaid.
The mayor’s staff is working on developing an advisory committee of community groups and residents to develop the policy, the document states.
The planning for the pilot is still at a very early stage, Rhodes-Conway told the Wisconsin Examiner, but the program will likely be targeted at people living in low income housing or experiencing housing insecurity. With the current $600,000, the city will be able to help about 50 people, she says. Though she adds that she hopes local organizations and donors can add to that pot so the pilot can be expanded to serve more than 100.
Obviously 50 people isn’t very many in a city of more than 250,000, but the goal of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income is to develop programs that — while assisting community members — show proof of concept and provide data that helps develop statewide or national programs.
“Cities are never going to have the ability to run full-scale, long-term guaranteed income programs,” she says. “We really need state and federal action. What we can do is be what we’ve always been, which is be the laboratories of democracy.”
“But it will also help people,” she adds. “Because affordable housing is such an issue here in Madison and also a top priority for my administration, we’re working to build a program that will connect with the problem of housing affordability. How can we identify a pool of people that are either potentially in a low-income housing situation or experience housing insecurity and connect them with this pilot and look at the impacts of guaranteed income in conjunction with housing.”
While the Madison program is focused on how a guaranteed income can assist with housing, other cities target parents or Black women or anyone under a certain income level, Rhodes-Conway says.
A guaranteed basic income is a policy that involves sending monthly direct cash payments to people under a certain level of wealth with no strings attached or work requirements.
Providing 50 or 100 people with direct cash payments will help those families, according to Rhodes-Conway, but even a national program won’t solve every aspect of the city’s affordable housing crisis.
“It’s not going to be a panacea, it’s not going to fix all of our affordable housing problems,” Rhodes-Conway says. “We’ll still need to make sure we’re producing more housing across the board and also specifically more affordable housing. The combination of additional housing production and additional income available to families will mean more families can get stable housing and stay in it for longer.”
Mayors for a Guaranteed Income is also providing funding to eight other cities through this donation and the policy has gained support in other parts of Wisconsin.
City of Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis has proposed a pilot program to provide $500 a month to some Milwaukee families. In his unsuccessful race for the suburban and rural 5th Congressional District against then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Democrat Tom Palzewicz proposed a universal basic income.
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