In the Media

NPR: Places across the U.S. are testing no-strings cash as part of the social safety net

03. 05. 2024

"That is the type of life we could offer Americans and choose not to."

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When Cook County’s two-year pilot ends, Preckwinkle has vowed to use the county’s own budget to keep it going. A few states have also allocated funding to cash aid programs. But as pandemic money runs out, it’s possible this mass experiment could fizzle.

“That’s a concern, and that’s what we are pushing back against,” says Natalie Foster, president of the Economic Security Project, which advocates for guaranteed income. She founded the group along with Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook.

Foster says the U.S. has more poverty than almost any other rich nation and that its social safety net is one of the stingiest.

“If you look at so many other countries with similar economies, you understand that college is free,” Foster says. “They ensure that health care is cheap and affordable. Oftentimes, child care is free. That is the type of life we could offer Americans and choose not to.”

The problem hit home for Ameya Pawar with a trip to his local pharmacy. He’s now a senior adviser with the Economic Security Project in Chicago. But in 2016, he was a new dad who was sent to get diapers and was puzzled to find them and other baby products under lock and key.

He came to realize that people are not allowed to use public assistance to buy diapers or wipes, and saw the locks as a heartbreaking sign of their desperation. Because “you need to send your infant with diapers or wipes to attend child care, so you can go to work,” he says.

Pawar and others point to welfare reform in the 1990s, which dramatically reduced the amount of cash assistance. For the poorest families, that lack of cash can make it hard to pay for things like utilities, transportation to a job, enough food for a full month or school supplies for children.

This is partly why advocates for basic income say it’s not meant to replace other assistance, but to add to it.