We believe everyone deserves the essentials: A roof over their head, a stocked pantry, and a doctor they don’t have to be afraid to visit when they get sick. But far too many Washington families are living in or on the brink of poverty.
A new survey of 10,000 grocery workers in the Western United States showed that 78% of them struggled to afford basic needs like shelter, food and child care. Washingtonians deserve a government that works as hard as they do. When it comes to solving the problem of poverty in our state, the answer is simple: Give people cash.
Basic Income isn’t a radical idea. In 1971, Seattle was selected by the federal government to participate in “Income Maintenance Experiments” that lasted over a decade. Under the program, 4,800 low-income Seattle households were given the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $23,000-$34,000 per year.
And not that long ago, the federal government gave nearly everyone $2,000 in the first nine months of the pandemic, no strings attached, to help stave off the negative economic impacts of COVID-19, lifting nearly 12 million people momentarily out of poverty in the process. That was a form of Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI)—a promising approach that local governments have been reprising in the last few years to great success.
After two years of $500 monthly checks, Stockton, California residents increased full-time employment by double digits, lowering overall stress and improving well-being. In Jackson, Mississippi, Black mothers received $1,000 per month for a year, more than tripling their ability to pay bills, and allowing nearly half of them to save for emergencies for the first time.
The recent successes led to a nationwide campaign, “Mayors For A Guaranteed Income,” where mayors across the country advocated for GBI—including here in Washington, where Tacoma families just began receiving $500 monthly payments of their own under the leadership of Mayor Victoria Woodards. A study released recently showed that when poor mothers were provided cash stipends for the first year of their children’s lives, their children recorded brain activity associated with stronger cognitive development.
With basic incomes, more people are able to afford food and housing, pay off debt, get full-time jobs, save for emergencies, and get the physical and mental health support they need. Cash payments dramatically improve the lives of our neighbors and communities. That’s a source of hope. Unfortunately, the very need for GBI also reveals just how many of us are close to losing everything; even people working multiple jobs that offer little security for workers.
That’s why we’re fighting this legislative session to pass a Guaranteed Basic Income in Washington State. The Legislature is considering a bill that would institute the Evergreen Basic Income Trust, a GBI program that provides regular, unrestricted cash payments to recipients who meet certain criteria. We’re championing this bill because we trust our neighbors to take care of themselves and each other. This program offers the freedom and dignity of self-determination, allowing participants to decide for themselves how to best provide care for their loved ones and families.
Participants will receive monthly payments for up to three years equal to the cost of rent for a 2-bedroom apartment unit wherever they call home. That’s about $1,050 in Yakima County, $1,126 in Wenatchee, and $1,940 in Snohomish and King Counties. Not only will the program finally allow families to meet their essential needs, it will also go a long way toward closing the wage gap in communities of color throughout our state.
Government decides how our economy is structured – not the “invisible hand” of the market. For too long, those at the top have benefited from rules that have been rigged in their favor. And our upside-down tax code — the worst in the nation — has only made things worse. We have an opportunity to flip things in favor of families and everyday Washingtonians by putting money in the pockets of ordinary people. We can fund this important work to end poverty and positively impact the lives of millions of Washingtonians by ensuring those with the most pay their share.
Now is the time for Washington to fund measures that keep households afloat during tumultuous times. And we can do it with the Evergreen Basic Income Trust. As advocates and organizers, we must fight for Washington’s families. They deserve all the support we can provide right now, so tell your legislators to support House Bill 2009. Show up to testify and sign on in support at the upcoming hearing on Feb. 1 at 8 a.m. before the Housing, Human Services and Veterans House Committee. Let’s get economic relief for the people who need it most through the finish line this legislative session.
Shaun Scott is the Policy and Field Campaign Manager for the Statewide Poverty Action Network. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Heartbreak City: Sports and the Progressive Movement in Urban America (2023, UW Press).
Liz Berry is a Democratic state representative serving the 36th Legislative District, which includes South Lake Union, Belltown, Queen Anne, Magnolia, Ballard and Greenwood.