On Tuesday, Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved what will be the largest basic income pilot program in the U.S.
Councilmember Curren Price proposed the BIG:LEAP program, which stands for Basic Income Guaranteed: Los Angeles Economic Assistance Pilot. It expands the initial $6 million to a nearly $40 million investment.
As the idea of guaranteed basic income policies gain more traction, writer Roxane Gay spoke to Alex Cohen about why she supports it.
“There are a lot of issues that arise when people don’t have a safety net. That is something that unfortunately a great many Americans do not have,” Gay said. “When something goes wrong, when they have a crisis, they are immediately plunged into debt and they are forced to make impossible choices.”
There are 3,000 families in LA who are living in poverty and have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic who will receive $1,000 no-strings-attached direct cash payments as a result of the BIG:LEAP program.
The idea is not without critics.
"The reality is that our government writes blank checks for all kinds of things, and they do so for billions and trillions of dollars, so it’s always interesting to me that people think that giving $1,000 or $1,500 a month is somehow a bridge too far," the best-selling author of "Bad Feminist and Hunger" told Cohen.
In an unconventional attempt to win some of those critics over, Gay has partnered with Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a group founded by former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, for an essay contest.
Through her newsletter “The Audacity.” Gay requested submissions from writers with a loose prompt, just asking them to consider the questions, “What would life look like for you or people in your community with economic stability? How would your life choices and priorities shift? What sacrifices have you made without economic stability and how has that affected your outlook? What would the world look like if everyone had what they needed? Who would we all be in a world where wealth was distributed rather than hoarded?”
When asked why she thought the written word was the best method to talk about the controversial policy, Gay said these essays allow one to think about guaranteed income in human terms instead of political terms.
"We politicize so much right now, especially in this current climate, and at the end of these day what these people are saying here is what a basic income could have done," she said.
Gay added that she received over 300 submissions but chose five to feature in the newsletter.
The Essays for a Guaranteed Income each tell different stories about the writers’ experience with dire economic circumstances. They include a single mother writing about her struggle to be a good parent while working long hours, a grocery store worker worried about getting COVID at his job but unable to leave his job, and a woman whose dying friend couldn’t afford to be cremated.
"When you see this kind of testimony on the page without any political agenda, it allows for people to overcome their prejudices and really listen to what it means to walk in someone else’s shoes," Gay said.