The 21st Century New Deal
Flashing cameras, hors d’oeuvres, and a red carpet set the tone for guests at the Minnesota premiere of “It’s Basic,” a documentary by Marc Levin that chronicled the guaranteed income movement and its impact on communities across the country.
The screening was held at The Wellstone Center on Wednesday, July 19, and hosted by St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. Dozens of community members packed into the theater to participate in the screening of the documentary and hear from those championing the guaranteed income movement.
The film featured several individuals who participated in different guaranteed-income pilot programs throughout the country and emphasized how much of an impact the extra income provided on their lives. Many of the subjects in the film were women and parents, from low-income backgrounds doing what they could to stay afloat. It demonstrated how the guaranteed income campaign made headway across the country and the ways in which financial support can make a difference in the lives of many.
It’s been nearly three years since St. Paul launched the People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Pilot, which gave 150 families $500 a month for 18 months. Ahead of the screening, Mayor Carter spoke of how he was determined to provide residents with resources and encouraged others to follow suit.
Michael Tubbs, former mayor of Stockton, California, attended the event and introduced the concept of universal basic income (UBI) or guaranteed income to Mayor Carter.
“Six years ago, when I had been mayor for three weeks, Mayor Tubbs and I ended up having dinner together. I had read about this thing that he was doing around guaranteed income and it was just amazing,” Carter explained as he introduced the documentary.
Years after their first meeting, Tubbs would reach out to Carter and invite him to participate in a national movement to build a campaign for guaranteed income programs across the country. Now, Tubbs leads both the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and Counties for a Guaranteed Income. Over 100 cities in the country have signed on to the platform for guaranteed income. In Minnesota, St. Paul along with Minneapolis, Richfield, and Brooklyn Center have signed on to participate.
“I looked at Muneer Karcher-Ramos, who runs our Office of Financial Empowerment and I said, ‘Stockton’s already first. St. Paul, we’re gonna be second,” Carter said. “That started a journey for us here in St. Paul which is a really sacred journey every politician, every elected official, every person always tells us they believe in us. Well, if you believe in us, then invest in us.”
Carter launched St. Paul’s guaranteed income pilot in November 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In September of last year, the mayor’s office shared the findings from the pilot to showcase how the funds provided to residents were spent during those 18 months.
Over half of the funds were used to purchase necessities such as food, household goods, and hygiene products. Nearly half of the participants were of mixed background with another 27 percent identifying as White, 24 percent as African American, and 13 percent as Latino. When looking at the gendered breakdown, roughly nine out of 10 participants were women.
DJ Mickey Breeze, an artist, and educator from St. Paul, introduced the film and gave his own remarks as a participant in the pilot program. He shared how getting a stream of guaranteed income has allowed him to pursue his love of music and the arts that he wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do.
“As a 22-year-old musician, a lot of my artform people don’t tend to take seriously. ‘Oh, that’s not a real job,’” he said. “People don’t see the value in it until they finally need it. So the guaranteed income program actually bankrolled those ideas and helped people understand how important it is to keep these things going. It makes it smoother for other artists, other creators, and other people in need, who simply need a benefit to keep going in life.”
Earlier this year, the Springboard for the Arts announced the expansion of its own guaranteed-income program for artists in St. Paul to also include rural Minnesotans in its current application. The nonprofit launched its own pilot in April 2021, to support 25 St. Paul artists with $500 a month, and is now expanding to include 50 artists from St. Paul and 25 artists from Otter Tail County.
Given the findings of the St. Paul pilot program and the growing popularity of guaranteed-income programs across the country, state legislatures have also become interested in creating a fund to support more Minnesotans in dealing with financial hardships.
State Rep. Athena Hollins, (DFL-66B, St. Paul), is the chief author of the Universal Basic Income bill at the state legislature and spoke during the presentation of the documentary about her efforts. The bill proposes that eligible recipients receive between $350 to $1200 depending on their needs for a period of 12 to 24 months and dictates that there be substantial reporting to follow up on the performance of the program.
Hollins shared that the concept of UBI was introduced to her by Nekima Levy Armstrong, who was her professor in law school. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that she saw the necessity of UBI or guaranteed income programs for Minnesotans, where every dollar spent went a long way for families and business owners.
“I was able to not worry about when my next paycheck was gonna hit. I was able to spend more time with my kids and not try to rack up more overtime,” she said. “I was able to invest in local community businesses and restaurants and support the organizations that I wanted to support during this time of pandemic, when they really needed my business.”
Hollins said that guaranteed income would be a cushion to help close the racial and gender wage gaps that have led to disparities between groups. Much of the pushback against guaranteed income has been that those who stand to benefit from these resources may not be responsible enough to be trusted with this stream of income. Mayor Carter addressed these issues and pointed to the data that his office gathered that contradicted these claims.
“What we’re finding out is that when ‘those people’ have money, they spend it a lot like us, like most people would. And maybe we’re finding out, that there never was a ‘those people’ in the first place. They were all just part of our humanity,” he said.