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Madison to pilot 'guaranteed income' program with $500,000 from Twitter CEO

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As Congress haggles over whether to send Americans another round of debt-funded coronavirus relief checks, the city of Madison could start putting some of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s money into the pockets of a select group of Madisonians as part of a “guaranteed income” pilot project.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s office announced this week that Madison will get up to $500,000 from the $15 million Dorsey most recently gave Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a group founded in June by Stockton, California, Mayor Michael Tubbs and the nonprofit Economic Security Project to create and study guaranteed income pilot programs with designs on lobbying for such programs nationally.

Rhodes-Conway hopes that initial investment can be increased with other charitable donations.

The idea of providing American households with direct government payments to use as they see fit has been around for decades. Martin Luther King Jr. saw it as a way to alleviate poverty. More recently, it was a key plank in Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s platform.

The programs can be universal — in that everyone, regardless of income, gets the money — or targeted to households below certain income levels or that meet other eligibility requirements. The latter makes them similar to existing government social welfare programs and private charity.

Rhodes-Conway’s chief of staff, Mary Bottari, said the city is in the beginning phases of designing Madison’s program, but a news release announcing it Thursday says staff are looking at “ways to create a program that works with city residents experiencing housing insecurity” and doesn’t interfere with public benefits such as public housing, Section 8 vouchers, Medicaid benefits or food stamps.

The city is also looking at creating a committee to guide the program, according to the news release.

In Stockton’s guaranteed income program, 125 families randomly chosen from neighborhoods where the annual median income was at or below the city’s average got $500 monthly payments for 18 months.

In Jackson, Mississippi, 15 low-income families were given $1,000 a month for 12 months.

In Chicago, a task force last year recommended giving 1,000 families who met certain eligibility requirements $1,000 a month for 18 months.

Madison’s approach will be informed by what’s been done in other cities, where between 20 and 150 people have received monthly checks of between $500 and $1,000 for a year or two, according to the mayor’s office.

“Guaranteed income differs from other public assistance programs in that the money provided to participants is not limited to categorical spending,” such as for food and housing, the office said in a statement.

Chris Rickert's favorite stories of his least favorite year (2020)

From the pandemic to crimes real and not-so-real, there was no shortage of news in 2020 — most of it bad. Here's hoping for a 2021 that requires just a little bit less resilience.

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