Pilots to Policy

Guaranteed Income Timeline

06. 17. 2024

A Modern History of Guaranteed Income in the United States

1960-Present Day

The following timeline details major events in modern American history that have led to the creation of guaranteed income–which currently takes the form of pilot initiatives, various state and federal refundable tax credits, and a permanent sovereign wealth fund in Alaska. At Economic Security Project, we believe this will lead us toward a future where a federal initiative provides easily accessible, regular cash payments with no strings attached and no work requirements.

Prior to the 1960’s, guaranteed income earned the support of influential thinkers across the globe, including Johannes Vives, Marquis de Condorcet, Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell, Virginia Woolf, and Huey Long. For further reading about the historical origins of guaranteed income, visit the Basic Income Earth Network.


In Los Angeles, Johnnie Tillmon, a laundry worker and Black single mother, organizes other mothers and forms the Aid to Needy Children-Mothers Anonymous to combat welfare program inspections and harassment. In Las Vegas, Ruby Duncan, a maid and Black single mother, organizes other mothers and forms the Nevada Welfare Rights Organization to improve benefits for welfare recipients. Together with other civil rights leaders, they led a campaign for guaranteed income, which became part of the Democratic platform in 1972. Their work influenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s support for guaranteed income, as he notes in his final book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?


President Nixon introduces the Family Assistance Plan, a negative income tax of $1,600 (about $13,000 today) for a family of four. The Senate Finance Committee fails to advance the plan.


Alaska voters establish the Alaska Permanent Fund, created to save a portion of the state’s oil and mining revenues for future generations. Managed by the state-owned Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, the APF pays an average of $1,600 annually to each Alaska resident.


A group of over 100 entrepreneurs, activists, researchers, and philanthropists sign the charter of the Economic Security Project, agreeing on the mission of championing direct cash payments to empower Americans to live and work to their full potential.


Mayor Michael Tubbs and Economic Security Project announce the first mayor-led guaranteed income demonstration in Stockton, California.


Representative Rashida Tlaib introduces the BOOST Act, and then-Senator Kamala Harris introduces the LIFT the Middle Class Act, which adopts Economic Security Project’s proposal to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit— the first time since 1969 that a guaranteed income bill has seen real attention in Congress.


The Magnolia Mother’s Trust pilot in Jackson, Mississippi, distributes its first checks, giving Black mothers living in affordable housing $1,000 per month for twelve months. This produces powerful data on how such a program increases people’s ability to feed their families, pay their bills, and save for emergencies, and improves participants’ feelings of confidence, joy, and agency over their own lives. It has expanded to larger cohorts with each successive year, offering more benefits, and it continues to this day. Mayor Tubbs’ Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration would distribute their first payments in February of 2019.


Economic Security Project supports the creation of task forces in Chicago, Atlanta, and California with labor, philanthropic, policy, and community leaders to advance dialogue and action steps toward a guaranteed income.


Multiple candidates across the Democratic Party primary field endorsed cash policies, including eventual Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Cory Booker.


Economic Security Project and Mayor Tubbs found Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (MGI) to capitalize on the momentum in municipalities nationwide. Since their founding, 150 mayors have joined MGI, and a network of county elected officials have organized under the affiliate Counties for a Guaranteed Income.


The COVID-19 pandemic creates the need for emergency relief to struggling families. Congress and President Trump approves two separate payments, one in April and one in December, to go out to nearly every American household, demonstrating the popularity of direct cash payments and the relative efficiency of the mechanism to deliver them.


Policy experts, advocates, researchers, leaders, funders, practitioners and elected officials found the Guaranteed Income Community of Practice (GICP) to convene and collaborate in the maturing arena of unconditional cash programs. The community now has over 1,000 members meeting regularly.


Economic Security Project establishes the Cash as Care framework that uses early recipient stories and research to make the case that guaranteed income is a health policy intervention.


The American Rescue Plan expands the Child Tax Credit to nearly all families with children under 18 — making the credit fully refundable for the first time, increasing the maximum credit to $3,600, and allowing it to be delivered in monthly advance payments. This dramatically increases the impact of the program, but only for the six-month duration of the program.

July 15, 2021

The first advance monthly payments of the expanded Child Tax Credit are sent to millions of American households.

December 15, 2021

The final advance monthly payments are distributed, as the Senate falls short of passing an extension.


The California Department of Social Services prioritizes $35 million in funding for guaranteed income pilot programs that serve foster youth who recently left the foster care system and pregnant mothers.


Three dozen states consider legislation for state-level tax credits to ensure more cash gets to families nationwide, and 18 states notched wins, doubling the number of states with a Child Tax Credit.


Since the debut of guaranteed income initiatives in Stockton and Jackson, public officials, foundations, community organizers, health experts, artists and more have started 150 other guaranteed income pilots in 35 states, with over 55,000 recipients.


With the Guaranteed Income Community of Practice, Economic Security Project publishes the Guaranteed Income Blueprint, a guide to achieving a guaranteed income in the next decade, releases the largest qualitative and quantitative study on guaranteed income to date, showing that 56% of American voters support guaranteed income.


The IRS launches Direct File, a free, simplified online tax filing tool. It is a permanently funded program available for any state to join. This is part of the infrastructure for delivering a guaranteed income, sending billions of dollars annually in additional tax credits to low-income families. By reducing barriers to tax filing, Direct File ensures more families receive the refunds and credits they deserve, combating the exploitative practices of the tax prep industry.