Holyoke Mayor Morse joins advocates for Universal Basic Income

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse announces the cancellation of the Holyoke St. Patrick's Day Parade and Road Race due to public health concerns related to the coronavirus, on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (Don Treeger/The Republican via AP) Don Treeger

Staff Writer
Published: 7/19/2020 8:03:11 AM

HOLYOKE — A pilot program of direct, recurring cash payments to some city residents may be in Holyoke’s future, as Mayor Alex Morse has joined a diverse coalition of mayors — representing localities from Compton to Pittsburgh — who are advocating for universal basic income.

The group, “Mayors for a Guaranteed Income,” was founded in June by Mayor Michael D. Tubbs of Stockton, California and the Economic Security Project. Sixteen mayors in total have joined in its mission to advocate for a guaranteed income program.

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey has stepped up to provide major funding for the project, announcing in a tweet that he’s donated $3 million to the coalition to support guaranteed income programs in cities across the United States.

“We are optimistic and we are in early conversations with the organization in collaboration around piloting it here in Holyoke,” Morse said in an interview, though he noted it’s too early to know the details of how such a program would work. “We do expect that this will result in funds to the city, to pilot some sort of program.”

Advocates for a guaranteed income, also known as a Universal Basic Income (UBI), say direct, recurring and unconditional cash payments to Americans would help to supplement existing social welfare programs while also combating wealth and income inequality. Mayors for a Guaranteed Income says on its website that the COVID-19 pandemic has only further exposed the “economic fragility of most American households and has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown people.”

Morse said direct cash payments would help lift people from economic burdens. A recent study published by the Brookings Institute found that the poverty rate in America declined in April and May when Congress stepped in and provided a one-time cash payment and added unemployment benefits due to the pandemic.

“It would actually empower people to make choices that they are … less willing or able to do otherwise,” Morse said about UBI. “This provides a financial safety net to all Americans so they could actually start that business, or go back to school and be their full selves.”

The concept of a guaranteed income recently re-entered the political zeitgeist when unsuccessful 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang made the “Freedom Dividend” — a policy proposal of direct $1,000 a month cash payments to every American adult — a signature aspect of his campaign. Morse’s current Democratic primary campaign against incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, has been endorsed by Yang.

But the idea for a guaranteed income in the United States has been around for much longer. Revolutionary War-era American philosopher and activist Thomas Paine in 1797 discussed a lump sum granted to all citizens at adulthood, and more recently, Martin Luther King Jr. considered UBI as a strategy to combat poverty within the Black community in the 1960s, according to Stanford University.

Guaranteed income pilot programs are already underway in places across the United States, including in Tubbs’ city of Stockton. There, city officials in February 2019 began giving 125 residents $500 a month for a period of 18 months.

In explaining the merits of a guaranteed income, Morse used the example of parents who may be struggling to care for their children while simultaneously trying to make ends meet. He said the global pandemic has only exacerbated this issue, as remote learning has become the norm.

“Why is it, to no fault of their own, that American people are having to choose between raising a family, homeschooling their kid, and having an income — having enough money to pay basic necessities?” Morse asked. “It’s (about) changing the paradigm in which we view these issues.”

Morse said that existing social services and UBI are “not mutually exclusive,” saying he also supports universal child care and college, among other initiatives. He said in Holyoke, a guaranteed income program would be a “value add” as it would ensure people are less insecure about food and housing while also promoting spending at city businesses.

“This doesn’t eliminate other social safety net programs,” Morse said. “It adds additional resources to people, which has a positive impact on the local economy.”

Morse said he imagines that more people will contributing money to the coalition as more mayors start to pilot UBI in their cities — but he said eventually, the buck must be passed to elected officials.

“This shouldn’t be something we rely on the private sector to invest in,” Morse said. “This is really something that should be a priority of our government.”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.

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