The newest thing in government programs is the “universal basic income,” described by advocates as unconditional cash payments to fight poverty and help lower-income residents thrive.

A problem that immediately becomes apparent is the one identified by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. You eventually run out of other people’s money.

To extend “eventually” as long as possible, proponents have so far tried only limited pilot programs. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed a $24 million UBI program in his new budget. It will provide 2,000 families who live at or below the federal poverty line with $1,000 a month for one year, no strings attached. Garcetti said this will give families “the space to not only dream of a better life, but to actualize it.”

Actually, the population of Los Angeles is roughly 4 million, and in 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau found that 18% of Los Angeles residents had incomes below the poverty line. More than a year into the pandemic, it’s probably worse now.

So who gets the free cash?

This remains unclear. “The selection criteria for participant households is still being developed,” LAist reported, citing the mayor’s office, “but will likely include supporting a child under the age of 18 and a demonstrated medical or financial hardship connected to COVID-19.”

That doesn’t narrow it down very much.

Certainly, having more money is helpful, but that doesn’t make the program sustainable. Not at the scale needed in America’s states and cities.

Some universal basic income programs have relied on donated funds. Garcetti accepted donations to his nonprofit, The Mayor’s Fund, to pay for his “Angeleno Card” program, which handed out prepaid debit cards to more than 100,000 city residents. He “behested” a $5 million donation from the Consulate General of the State of Qatar to help pay for the program, but even that was only enough to meet about 25% of the demand when more than 400,000 people applied for the cards.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean legislators will pay for it. It means taxpayers will.

— Tribune News Service

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