I applied for LA’s basic income program – and the process was startling

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sSitting in the Ralph’s parking lot in front of the Pacific Coast Highway at 8 a.m. on a Friday, hot and sticky in an old wetsuit, I clicked the link for big leap, Los Angeles’ guaranteed income pilot and the largest program of its kind in America.

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Applications for the program had opened that morning. The participants will be selected by lottery and eligibility criteria were simple: applicants must be over 18 years of age, live in the city of Los Angeles, have one or more dependents, and live in poverty according to federal poverty guidelines – a A somewhat old and controversial method of measuring poverty, but one which, in the absence of prerequisites, is still widely used. The aim of the project was straightforward: to study the effects of giving $1,000 a month in cash to nearly 3,000 households, with no strings attached.

Californians Pay Off Debt and Find Full-time Jobs on Universal Basic Income
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For a single parent who lost two jobs in 2021, the opportunity to receive an additional thousand dollars a month tax-free in a city where the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,195 is a lifeline. seemed like. I thought I knew what to expect from this process. I had previously applied for several assistance programs – calworks, CalFresh, Medical, tedious and detailed applications that delved into my bank accounts, utility bills, rental agreements, child support, income and assets (or lack of them), and they often involved multiple visits to the offices to clear up those messes who had tied up my imaginary aid in the bureaucratic system. During the pandemic, I applied for – and received – $17,500 of SBA money. That application took only a few minutes to complete.

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The roughly 80 questions that the Big: Leap application posed started off predictably enough: what is your gender? , how many children under the age of 18 Do you have?

They soon got into the personal: How much physical pain have you had in the last 4 weeks?

Then the application took a nap in the deeply intimate:

Have you experienced any of the below actions from a current or former partner or partner?

  • Blame me for their violent behavior.

  • Shook me, pushed me, caught or threw me.

  • Tried to convince my family, kids or friends that I was crazy or tried to turn them against me.

  • used or threatened to use a knife or gun or other weapon to harm me.

  • Made me do sex acts that I didn’t want to do.

Screen shots from the app

It took me 45 minutes, several F-bombs and a pack of Kleenex, to complete the application.

This is the paradox of Big: Leap. The program aims to stop “controlling” people in poverty through policy that no longer determines what recipients spend government aid on. But to prove the project’s worth, researchers have developed a control program that feels frustrating and difficult—sometimes even harmful. Michael Tubbs, the former mayor of Stockton, California, said: “This is proof that we need to put in place policy to prevent people in poverty from being forced to prove their need.”

Stockton ran wild in recent years Successful Two Year Guaranteed Income Pilot, Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (Seed) program result achieved The aim of combating wealth inequality was expected by many politicians and researchers: critics of the plan argued that in Stockton’s case, $500 a month for two years – tax-free, additional, no-string income – Will destroy people’s work ethic and money will be spent irresponsibly. comprehensive survey It was eventually discovered that the money improved the job prospects, financial stability, mental and physical health and overall well-being of the 200 participants. The researchers found that only 1% of the money goes towards alcohol and tobacco.

Since then, other major cities in California have launched pilots of their own. San Francisco announced its schedule in September 2020. Oakland followed suit in March. Chicago, Illinois, Passed Its guaranteed income program in October.

The setup of each of these pilots is different. The Stockton program had a similar structure to Big: Leap, using a control group and a test group to draw conclusions. But it had no criteria for entry other than the Stockton zip code, and potential applicants entered a simple lottery without a preliminary questionnaire.

Councilmember Karen Price speaks during an event focused on Big: Leap. Photograph: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/REX/Shutterstock

Curious about other LA residents’ responses to application questions, I went with one of the running centers across the city, most of which were in the district. Karen D Price, the city council member who started the LA plan. This predominantly working class, Spanish-speaking neighborhood has one of the highest poverty rates in the city. In Price’s office, 16 computer terminals were set up in a single room with three bilingual volunteers, ready to assist walk-in applicants who may not have the literacy or technology to complete the application at home. . a reporter for KCRW, Aaron Closet, holding the voice recorder sat outside the room. When the applications opened on Friday, there was a line around the block. When I visited three days later, 13 terminals were occupied, and bored kids walked around holding crayons while their parents patiently typed. One woman completed the application in three hours. The other took two.

Schrank told me that he interviewed two people The morning of that morning, like me, was confused and hurt by the questions. Former upholsterer Luis Riva told him: “They’re asking a lot of questions about my health. They are asking questions that are not related to helping people with money. They’re asking other things like how’s my health, how I think, psychological stuff. Bonnie Morales, who lost her father and then her job during the pandemic, complained: “They asked me about my partner, as if it was a girl or a boy. Like, what does that matter?… Why does it matter if I’m gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans? I find these questions very strange, you know… ask me if I’m starving. Ask me if I can buy a bag of beans. Ask me that.”

One volunteer, Porsha Anderson, admitted that many applicants struggled with the questions. “They want to know, ‘Why are they asking me about domestic issues? What do I mean by that? What do I have to answer to get the money?'”

Dr Bo-kyung Elizabeth Kim, an assistant professor, University of Southern California Center on Education Policy, Equity and Governance Joe Big: Leap’s head of local research supervisors pointed out that the questionnaire consists of key questions composed by researchers and questions added by study sites.

A screen shot from the app says 'What does the word trust mean to you'
Photograph: Screengrab of the Big: Leap Questionnaire/The Big: Leap

“Both the researchers and their political allies are looking forward to understanding how and why funds provided through the program may or may not improve the specific experience of families in poverty,” he said, as well as the challenges that poverty brings. can.

Questions about intimate partner violence in the questionnaire were included by the City of Los Angeles, saying: “We suspect that intimate partner violence is a widespread community issue based on police calls for domestic disturbances, but in fact we have no idea about it.” does not have strong data. As to the prevalence usually only physical violence is reported,” she said. “Including those questions helps LA understand the prevalence of intimate partner violence among applicants, and It helps the city determine whether guaranteed income can actually help people move away from dangerous relationships.”

He said the questions on the application were not mandatory. (The disclaimer at the beginning of the application stated that the questions were not compulsory, but there was no way for the applicant to avoid them. All one had to do was click through the entire application before it was submitted for admission to the lottery.)

The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, said that he, as a social scientist, wanted the L.A. program to have the largest possible sample size and to ask the deepest questions of that sample, in order to understand potential government policy aimed at tackling poverty. to provide solid data. The goal, he said, was to find solutions that would allow people to lift themselves out of poverty, not just survive it through cash, food, medical or tuition assistance.

Garcetti said what convinced him to commit to the pilot were the “Angeleno Card” — the basic debit card containing cash that’s given to LA residents during the pandemic. Garcetti said the card had the added benefit of allowing the city to track where that money was spent. When he saw that most of the money was spent on basic necessities like food, rent and utilities, he became committed to the idea of ​​a guaranteed income plan, as a kind of bellwether for programs at the federal and state levels. could work, he said. The city has since established a new department to handle Big: Leap and other “community wealth initiatives” aimed at combating poverty.

The difference between traditional social services and the notion of guaranteed income, Garcetti said, “was that belief”. [the program] Gives everyday people space to make decisions for themselves”.

“Our addiction to poverty is costing us trillions of dollars. I believe we can save money spent on criminal justice, lost economic opportunity through this plan and present it as a value proposition for the federal government,” he said. “We treat the poor like children who cannot do anything for themselves. We treat the rich like robbers…

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