The Compton Pledge is paying 800 families up to $600 per month to give them a leg up. So far, unemployment is down 50% and life is looking up for recipients and the community they live in. These privately funded stimulus checks aren’t a replacement for welfare, but they illustrate the benefits of a functioning social safety net. In this episode, Laura meets some of the women who are receiving the funds and speaks with Mayor Aja Brown, as well as former Stockton mayor, Michael Tubbs, founder of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. Also in this episode, Nika Soon-Shiong Executive Director of the Fund for Guaranteed Income and Co-founder of the Compton Pledge which on April 14, 2021 announced it had already distributed $1 million. Laura closes with a few thoughts on the racial wealth gap. If we can shrink it, why wouldn’t we?
• Aja Brown, Mayor, Compton, CA
• Michael Tubbs, Former Mayor of Stockton, CA; Special Adviser for Economic; Mobility for CA Governor Newsom; Founder, Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. Author, “The Deeper the Roots: A Memoir of Hope and Home”
• Nika Soon-Shiong, Co-Director, Compton Pledge; Executive Director, the Fund for Guaranteed Income
• Tiffany, Rosalyn, and Kiesha, Compton Pledge Participants and Compton Residents
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– I knew as a leader that I needed to step up and fill the gap for my community.
– One of the answers it seems to me is a guaranteed annual income, a guaranteed minimum income.
– Guarantee income provides a space for dignity, it provides a space for people to access the American dream.
– Is this a handout? Yes, it is a handout. This is a handout so that people can survive.
– It came at a good time, especially when I did not know where my help was coming from.
– We have to have this as a policy in this country.
– It’s all coming up on The Laura Flanders Show. The place where the people who say it can’t be done take a backseat to the people who are doing it. Welcome.
– More than two dozen mayors across the country are expanding universal basic income.
– It’s an idea known as Guaranteed Basic Income.
– Supporters say Guaranteed Income helps to address the academic reality of racial injustice.
– Could a Guaranteed Income change lives?
– Thousands of Americans recently received direct payments from their government as part of the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan to address unemployment and poverty exasperated by the pandemic. But what if direct payments like those came every month as a way to combat structural inequality and bias? For a group of people in two California cities that’s not just an idea, it’s the reality, thanks to an innovative experiment. The Compton Pledge in Compton California is paying 800 local women 600 dollars a month just to give them a leg up. It doesn’t replace, nor is it intended to replace any other supplements they might get from government and so far, guess what, unemployment is down 50% since the program started. It’s also getting serious attention well beyond the state of California, as we’re about to find out. Today we’ll meet some of the women who are receiving the funds and speak with Compton’s mayor, Aja Brown. As well as former Stockton Mayor, Michael Tubbs, founder of Mayors For A Guaranteed Income. He was the first big city mayor in the US to experiment like this. Could direct cash payments go national and be sustained? Should they? I started by asking the mayors to describe the towns they love.
– I’m Mayor Aja Brown representing the great city of Compton. What I love about Compton most are the people. We are resilient people, strong, have been through a lot and continue to persevere. We’re very diverse. Our history is rich, we’re over a 137 years old. We are in the direct center of Los Angeles County, surrounded by goods movement, transportation, airports, we’re about eight miles from the beach, so we get sea breezes. It’s just a wonderful city.
– Hello, my name is Michael Tubbs, I am the former mayor of the city of Stockton, California. I’m so exited to be on with my sister mayor, big sister mayor, Mayor Aja Brown in Compton. Particularly because when people see me and hear Stockton they assume I’m saying “Compton.” So I’ve been called the mayor of Compton, California for the past four years as well. What I love about Stockton is that Stockton is in the Central Valley. So it’s in sort of a part of California people think of as rural, but it’s actually a real urban city. It’s a city of about 315,000 people. In 2019 it was named The Most Diverse City in this country. Which means that the entire world was in my hometown.
– Both of you have picked up on the idea of direct cash payments. And it’s heartening to see how much discussion there is of this idea nationally now. But when you were initiating your program in Stockton, Mayor Tubbs, that wasn’t the case. You were the first, February 2019. The story of the idea is much older than people know. It didn’t just get born with Andrew Yang. Tell us a little bit of the history and what to your mind was the problem that direct cash payments were the answer to there in Stockton in the Central Valley.
– Absolutely, the idea of cash payments, Guaranteed Income, universal basic income et cetera, are as old as this country itself. Thomas Paine was talking about this in the late 1700s in the agrerian revolution. I learned about it from studying Doctor King who was calling for this before he was assassinated but also from black women organizing the National Welfare Organization were talking about direct cash payments. The Black Panther’s point number three of their ten point plan speaks to a guaranteed income or a job guarantee. For me it was very encouraging to know that some of the thinkers we look up to the most had already thought about this because like okay if Dr. King said it, it must be, it’s good. And, and, and the problem we are trying to solve is just that like so many communities throughout this country, Stockton has a high amount of, not just poverty, but also economic insecurity. And I had my team research ideas for how to deal with poverty in particular and they came back with cash transfer payments. But all the research base was outside the country and I was like well show me something that says what happens in America. And they told me they weren’t able to find anything as readily. And that’s what like kind of made me realize that we had to do something. And we launched in February 2019, in terms of disbursements, but we had announced we were doing it in October 2017. And the world was just radically different then. Um, it was before Andrew Yang even announced he was running for President. We spent the year afterwards researching and learning and figuring out the best way to do it. And then in February we finally got those checks out.
– Mayor Tubbs here talked here about the lack of information in the US, studies in the US. What was the information that persuaded you to have the courage to go forward and adopt this idea in Compton?
– Really my brother Mayor um stepping into the fire and really pioneering this concept and in the more recent times, I’ve always supported him and we worked together and supported one another and so I saw him take a lot of heat for implementing the pilot in Stockton and I thought that number 1, it was worth moving forward for the benefit of my constituents and especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, people were without direct relief. People had no concept of when additional government aid would be coming to their households. I knew as a leader, that I needed to step up and really meet the need and fill the gap for my community and so, guaranteed income was an obvious choice for us to really step forward and to provide the basic necessities for Compton residents.
– Are there way that you have adapted or adjusted the program over its course so far Mayor Brown?
– Absolutely. At the onset of our pilot, I was very interested in studying the impact of guaranteed income on the formerly incarcerated, as well as the undocumented community as Compton does have a significant undocumented community in our community. And I also thought it was important to really focus on providing wellness and also financial health resources to our constituents and so we committed to provided a benefits portal. So we were providing cash but also providing resources so that we could really understand if we could influence financial practices by providing not only direct cash but also information and resources to help fill the gaps from knowledge.
– How does it work, nuts and bolts?
– We actually were able to gather the social economic data of our community and we focused on those that were beneath or around the poverty line and so there was a lottery process selected buy our third party researchers. We did not hand select people, it was completely by chance, randomized however we really wanted to focus on insuring that not only those that were lower income were eligible but also that the undocumented and the formerly incarcerated, which usually are excluded from social wellness programs.
– And can people still apply? Can people still find themselves getting that text saying that they’ve been selected?
– We have officially enrolled 740 participants of the 800 in our pilot program however, should we continue to receive additional donations and contributions then we will continue to enroll participants.
– How do you get the money again? Tell me a bit about the portal and how it works?
– So one our partners is the Fund for Guaranteed Income which created a benefits portal and it actually creates an access. So people that were un-banked, they now have free checking accounts. They can actually get CashApp, they can get Venmo, any way people can receive money they can do that digitally or they can actually pick up cash.
– This comes to the surprises in the results from these experiments. And I want to start with you, its only right, Mayor Tubbs. In what ways were you surprised by what happened? I mean there are all sorts of stereotypes out there about how if you give people a basic income they’ll just stop working, they’ll get lazy, there’ll be no initiative, they’ll have no sense of themselves. Did people just sit around?
– As folks who grew up, were raised by, learned became the people we are, the leaders we are, based off people who are economically insecure, based off the learnings of people who didn’t have money. None of the findings really surprised me cause they spoke to what I saw my entire life. Like I knew $500 wasn’t enough to make people stop working. Right, like that, when people would tell me that I would always be confused in interviews, like what am I missing? Like I literally do not see the world in a way were $500 is enough to not work anymore or people don’t wanna work and contribute. And I remember even before the data would come out I would say, no. I think people are going to work more. And everyone would look at me like I was speaking some different language and I didn’t understand so I am just so proud that the data shows that again, $500 is not gonna make anyone stop working. In fact, it allowed people to transition from part-time to full-time work more easily. It allowed people to pay for the things that make it difficult to get to work, like regular transportation. I was a little bit surprised, however, at the drastic impact on health that we saw. Particularly because I thought that $500 would do something, but I was like it’s not like its $1000 like in Compton or $1500 or $2000, right. So I was shocked that even something as small as $500 had impacts on mental health, comparable to clinical trials of Prozac. And I think that’s what made me move from being someone who was just interested in the idea to a full blown Evangelist, someone who’s saying no we have to have this as a policy in this country.
– We spoke with several participants in the Compton Pledge program and Nika Soon-Shiong, Executive Director of the Fund for a Guaranteed Income and Co-Founder of the Compton Pledge. Here is some of what they had to say. Initially when I got the text message about The Compton Pledge, I’d never heard of the Compton Pledge. So I was like what is this?
– When I got that first text message saying I’d been selected, I felt like I won the lottery but honestly, I thought it was a scam because we do get a lot of those scam emails and I’m like wait a minute, is this true?
– The Compton Pledge is a 2 year guaranteed income initiative that will deliver to low income residents of Compton between 300 and 600 dollars average monthly for 2 years. The idea of a guaranteed income is to provide an income floor below which nobody will fall. It’s to supplement, not replace Welfare programs.
– I initially ignored it because I’m like no they’re asking for my bank information and my personal information. And then I spoke with someone in the city of Compton who, just reiterated the fact that it was real. A week later I got a payment from them and I was just so shocked, like, Oh this is it’s real.
– Unlike typical Welfare programs, there is no application process. I’s direct, it’s recurring, and it’s specifically tailored to serve undocumented and formerly incarcerated residents.
– The details and information was super easy to follow and even registering on the site was super easy. It wasn’t a lot of steps. I thought it was going to ask for a bunch of personal information and it didn’t. I didn’t have any issues with linking my bank account information and they even gave you um information on there if you didn’t have a bank account.
– The chat says they generally respond within two hours and it was an instant response. Everyone’s always helpful, always friendly, any questions you have, they answer, any type of way that they’re able to be helpful.
– We’re also supporting our participants with mental health services, with social support, legal services, access to other forms of income and financial education.
– The finances, it’s amazing. We need the money for sure but also don’t be scared to look at the different resources because with those resources there’s also a lot of great information and a lot of great services outside of the Compton Pledge that you can take advantage of and I have learned quite a bit.
– Is this a handout? Yes, it is a handout. This is a handout so that people can survive.
– I have take two medications um for my heart since the surgery and insurance doesn’t cover it. So one of the medications is $388, the other medication is $900. So that’s the extra expense that I have to pay outside of my household expenses and I wasn’t able to do so to be honest. So with the payment that I received from the Compton Pledge, I take those two payments they give me a month and put it towards my medication and then I just try to make the difference so that I’m able to keep my medication going, so it has actually been a blessing.
– It came at a good time. I’m gonna be honest. It came at a good time. Especially when I did not know where my help was coming from. My cable bill was a couple of months behind, Edison was power, was getting there and you know just everything else like I don’t know what I’m gonna do but when I got the first deposit, I’m running to the water company. I’m paying Edison. I’m paying I paid everything that I need to do. And then had a little, little something extra change to spend on my children.
– With those extra funds I’ve actually been able to save and that’s something that has been really really big for me. Just trying to make sure that I’m saving. Um, I have been able to save those funds. It has taken off a tremendous amount of stress. It also has just added that fire under me to let me know that you will be able to get out of your current situation, that you will be able to be a home owner at some point.
– You’re going to read the narrative that’s put out in the world about Compton, it’s all negativity. We’re just inhumane, a bunch of gang bangers, and robbers and killers and things like that. Just to know that there’s some people here that care and some people here who are real humans with understanding and compassion that we’re humans just like everybody else. The fact that we could change narrative to show that it’s people doing good, for good people. I think that would be one of the most important things.
– Coming back to you and information, Mayor Brown. Who needs still to be convinced in your community, and then we’ll get to nationally, and what data perhaps do you need that you don’t have for reason of data privacy or bias in data collection?
– There was a little bit of consternation just really not understanding guaranteed income and the concept and how it relates to universal basic income, so there were just a few misnomers. After we had an education campaign and after residents quite frankly started to receive their disbursements, they were able to educate their own community constituents. Even people that weren’t able to receive the funding, they were immediate supporters when they were able to see just number one, the program is real, and the impact it had on families that really had no other lifeline. I think on the broader some of data gaps that are missing, we’re specifically, in Compton, looking to the undocumented in the formally incarcerated community in terms, if there’s some issues with data privacy and not having the opportunity to bypass some of those restrictions. We’re hoping that with our particular pilot that we’ll also be able to answer some of those questions and add to the broader discussion of what guaranteed income is, not only nationally, but also internationally.
– So a lot of people are probably wondering by now, where does the money come from? Frist you, Mayor Tubbs, where does the money come from? Is it from city taxes, where?
– When we did the pilot in Stockton, it’s before COVID-19 and the American Rescue Plan dollars, so we raised it all philanthropically. I think we’re in this very unique opportunity where mayors are being very bold and piloting and that requires some foundation and philanthropic support. Also pushing for a federal policy that will be our tax dollars because local governments can’t deficit spend. We have to have a balanced budget. We have to pay our long term obligations. We have to make sure in California our CalPERS payment is made and made on time. For that reason, that’s why we’re saying we’re piloting, but we’re also putting pressure to create policy. And I think the child tax credit in the American rescue plan is a good first step, we just have to make that permanent and make it for people who don’t have kids as well.
– There are a lot of people who’s concerns about the guaranteed basic income come from the thought that this is money from Silicon Valley and some would be uncharitable and say it’s guilt money from people who have realized they’ve made an economy that doesn’t employ people anymore and that it may not be very forward-looking, at least it’s not grappling in a deep way with the future of our economic system. What I’m hearing you say and correct me if I’m wrong, is that this a catalytic investment by people who want to see something piloted that would ultimately be nationally federalized and coming out of tax revenues. Am I understanding you right?
– Everyone who has been giving to the Stockton pilot and guaranteed income know very clearly that taxes should be raised on wealth. That we should probably tax assets, that we should tax these things to pay for these. I actually view the things that me and Mayor Brown are doing are great, and the 50 other mayors across the country are great, but they also point to a policy failure. Like we shouldn’t have to ask philanthropy for money for people to pay their bills. That’s such a crazy concept in my opinion.
– How many mayors are now part of Mayors for Guaranteed Income? Is it all urban inner cities in central valley towns like yours? Who’s doing it and are all the programs run in the same way? Are they all similarly operated?
– Yes, so right now we have 50 mayors. We’re announcing eight sometime this month. California is always gonna show out, so you have California, but we also have St. Paul Minnesota under the leadership of Mayor Melvin Carter, who is the first mayor to use public dollars to get his thing off the ground. We have Richmond, Virginia. We have Madison, Wisconsin. We have Gainesville, Florida. We have Gary, Indiana, who just announced their pilot. We have Paterson, New Jersey, who just announced their pilot. We have a constellation of mayors from big cities and small cities, urban cities, rural cities.
– What’s next? And are the experiments here now being studied around the world so that we don’t all only have to read about Finland.
– I just think it’s critical as a nation that we recognize that just because people are in a socioeconomic condition does not mean that they have a different desire for their family or they have different hopes or they have different expectations, it’s just that they have fewer opportunities and they’re compacted by the pressures of poverty. I just want people to really understand that guaranteed income provides a space for dignity, it provides a space for people to be able to enact their hearts desires, of saving money, of being about to attain dreams and to buy a home and to access the American dream.
– I think that what’s next is that we’re gonna see, whether it’s Compton, Oakland, Columbia South Carolina, where ever we’re going to see similar ways at which a guaranteed income helps. And what’s powerful is that I truly believe that no matter who you care about, a guaranteed income is actually going to be helpful, and I think the mayors will be powerful messengers in illustrating that. I think in terms of what’s next, is that we’ll continue pushing for policy.
– It’s always hard to be national figure and pushing a national idea and keeping your support at home, and Mayor Tubbs, it has to be said, you didn’t win reelection last time around, now you’re consulting with the Governor’s office on these questions. Were you disappointed? Are there things you would have done differently? Do you have advise for the next person who does this work?
– The status quo has a lot of freinds, no matter if it’s working or not, so when you’re challenging the status quo you have to be prepared for some backlash. I think that what’s necessary in this moment is leaders. And leaders aren’t tied to a title, it’s really tied to an action. I think although I’m not the mayor of Stockton, I’m still leading on the issues I care about and still doing very similar work. I also think that what I realized is that disinformation is so powerful. If I had to do anything differently, I would’ve spent more time thinking about how do you combat disinformation, particularly disinformation online.
– Mayor Brown, as I understand it, are not seeking reelection, is that right?
– I am focusing on my love, which is community development. I will still be serving Compton, but we’ve launched the Community Development Corporation. We are also launching a community development financing institution to work hand in hand with the organization. To really focus on bridging the gap between wealth in our community, generating generational wealth, access to capital, focusing on small business development, really the things that can transform individual lives. I’ve loved serving as mayor. It’s been a highlight of my professional career and I will continue and always serve my community, but this is just in a different capacity.
– I appreciated your contribution, what you’re doing there. We’re going to keep following the story and see where it goes, from here to the world. Democratic mayors from the West coast to the East are getting serious about inequality. Boston’s new first female, first African American mayor Kim Janey, says “combating the wealth gap” is something she’s very serious about. At her confirmation she laid it out. In Boston, the median net worth of a black Bostonian family stands at just eight dollars. For whites, it’s 250,000 dollars in net worth. That’s a 31,000 times difference. That eight dollars is no accident, pointed out Kim Janey, it’s the product of discrimination going back to a time when black families were kidnapped, broken up, and forced to work for free for whites, who, with the collaboration of their governments, got rich and made this country the wealthy place it is. So in a sense, that eight versus 250,000 difference is the product of a historic theft. It’s also no way to pull a country together and it’s something we can do something about. If we knew that 300 or 500 or 600 or 1000 dollars a month could be the difference between success in life and a family falling into poverty or ill health or homelessness or despair or giving up, isn’t that what governments and nations and all that national wealth is for? Or put it another way, if we knew that 300 or 500 or 800 or 1000 dollars a month could begin to make amends for historic theft and make repair, why wouldn’t we do it? Or put it another way, if we knew we could tackle this problem and make our nation better and more whole and we didn’t, what does that say about us? From the Laura Flanders Show, I’m Laura. Until the next time, stay kind, stay curious, and thanks for joining us. For more on this episode and other forward-thinking content and to tune into our podcast, visit our website at LauraFlanders.org and follow us on social media at TheLFshow.
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