Today Compton Mayor Aja Brown announced The Compton Pledge, which will distribute recurring, direct cash relief to approximately 800 low-income residents for two years, beginning late this year.
“I know firsthand what guaranteed income could have done for my mother. I’ve watched the many sacrifices she made, including walking to work to provide for my brother and I,” Brown said. “Like most Americans, we were one emergency away from having to move.”
An essential initiative
Almost a quarter of Americans don’t have emergency savings. Looking at Compton, upward of 1 in 5 residents live in poverty, which is double the average nationwide. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the city’s unemployment rate has risen to almost 22 percent.
The Compton Pledge will be the largest pilot for city-led guaranteed income initiatives in the United States. The program aims to assist irregularly employed residents, immigrants of varied legal status and formerly incarcerated residents. Brown will be assisted by the Jain Family Institute, the Fund for Guaranteed Income and an advisory council of local leaders and activists. Funds are being privately raised, reaching $2.5 million so far.
Pre-verified residents will be selected at random and be able to choose what sort of payment option best suits their circumstances. A social security number is not required. Unbanked participants will be given access to no-cost financial services and all will be provided with an online platform that facilitates legal, psychosocial and counseling services.
In a city that is 30 percent Black and 68 percent Latino, many rely on food pantries and are either unemployed, poorly paid or ineligible for government assistance. Decades of research indicate that cash transfers are an effective anti-poverty measure and that people keep their jobs. The extra money is typically spent on basic needs, like groceries and utilities. For those who do end up working fewer hours, the time is mainly put toward education, caring for children and job training.
“Guaranteed income is an urgent and necessary strategy for addressing the economic realities of racial injustice,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said.
An example for the world
In its aim to inform the state and federal guaranteed income agenda, the program will be monitored by an independent research team. Every six months, the team will report preliminary findings. A live data dashboard will be available as soon as disbursement begins, but participants will be anonymous.
Though commendable for its scale, Compton’s program is just one of many across the U.S. (It’s actually something going on around the world.) Brown, a founding member, is among 25 other mayors who committed to advocating for a national system of direct, recurring payments to vulnerable families.
“Guaranteed income will afford people the dignity of an income floor and agency to make choices for themselves,” Michael Tubbs said, who is the mayor of Stockton, another California city piloting guaranteed income. “I look forward to seeing the data support what Mayor Brown already knows to be true of her constituents: poverty stems from a lack of cash, not a lack of character.”