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$500 a month for a year? Columbia launches guaranteed income pilot program

·3 min read

Could an extra $500 a month change your life?

One hundred fathers in Columbia are about to find out.

The Columbia City Council passed a resolution on Tuesday that supports the launch of a guaranteed income pilot program in the capital city. Through the initiative, 100 fathers in Columbia will get $500 per month for a period of one year. The program, shepherded by third-term Mayor Steve Benjamin, is called the Columbia Life Improvement Monetary Benefit (CLIMB) and is being funded privately through grant funds from Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

Benjamin is part of an organization called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a group that was launched to advocate for the premise of a basic income in the form of recurring cash payments each month. Mayors for a Guaranteed income got $18 million in grants from Dorsey in 2020.

A number of cities across the country have either launched or will be launching guaranteed income pilot programs as part of the mayoral initiative, including, among others, Richmond, Virginia; St. Paul and Pittsburgh. Benjamin and several community partners have been working on organizing the Columbia effort since December.

The mayor said checks will begin going out in August.

The city is working with the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition to select the 100 fathers who will be a part of the pilot program. The Fatherhood Coalition is part of the S.C. Center for Fathers and Families and offers a number of community-based programs and support services for fathers. The participants in the guaranteed income pilot must be enrolled in programs with the coalition.

“This would be the only (universal income pilot program) of this sort in the country singularly focused on men,” Benjamin told The State. “Although you have a large and growing group of mayors in the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, ours is the only one focused on men.”

There are no strings attached or instructions on how the participants must spend the money. Benjamin said the funds will come to participants on a debit card that is reloaded each month.

“I think it is going to show us a number of things that we know to be true,” Benjamin said. “Even folks who have a difficult time making ends meet, if you help give them an income floor, they’ll do all the right things with it. The added benefit of our initiative is that we believe it will help strengthen the bonds between fathers and their children.”

The city-level guaranteed income pilot program started in Stockton, California, under former Mayor Michael Tubbs, who subsequently founded the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income group.

The idea of a monthly income program has also been, in part, popularized nationally in 2019 and 2020 through the presidential campaign of Democrat Andrew Yang, who proposed giving all Americans a “freedom dividend” of $1,000 each month.

As for why the city considered a resolution in support of the program, Benjamin nodded to the fact that his time as mayor is growing short. He is not seeking reelection this year, and there are just six months left in his third and final term.

“It was important to show the long-term commitment of the city,” Benjamin said of Tuesday’s resolution. “Especially since I’m launching the effort and I’ll be leaving office this year. I’m glad the city supported it and voted unanimously for it.”

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