As many throughout the country are still struggling financially due to the massive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Compton Mayor Aja Brown is helping out the residents in her city in a major way.
“People in our community are going through tough times, and I know that guaranteed income could give people a moment to navigate their situation.”
Mayor Brown, who happens to be the youngest mayor in the history of the City of Compton, recently announced that she is offering hundreds of low-income residents in her city two years of income.
The pilot program, called the Compton Pledge, guarantees cash payments between $300 and $600 to a group of 800 “pre-verified” residents each month for two years and access to free banking services. The money is available for “irregularly or informally employed residents, immigrants of varied legal status, and the formerly incarcerated,” according to a statement from Mayor Aja Brown.
“I know firsthand what guaranteed income could have done for my mother,” Brown said. “People in our community are going through tough times, and I know that guaranteed income could give people a moment to navigate their situation and have some breathing room to go back to school, explore a new career path, spend time with their children, or improve their mental and emotional wellbeing.”
More than 20% of Compton’s 95,000 residents, who are predominantly Black and Hispanic, live in poverty, double the national average. Unemployment has risen to 21.9% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the program. The initiative is designed “to challenge the racial and economic injustice plaguing both welfare programs and economic systems.”
Officials said the program’s effectiveness will be evaluated every six months.
The Compton Pledge has raised more than $2.5 million in private donations and organizers hope to raise a total of $8.1 million all from private sources. Brown has partnered with dozens of community organizations, including the Fund for Guaranteed Income and the Jain Family Institute.
Although the program is billed as “the largest, and longest-term guaranteed income initiative in the United States,” Compton is not the first city to experiment with universal basic income.
The idea of a guaranteed income dates back to at least the 18th century and has crossed ideological and cultural lines. Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang brought the idea to the nation’s attention with a plan to give cash to every American each month.
Basic income has a number of supporters around the world, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk; Sam Altman, president of startup incubator Y Combinator; and eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg praised the idea in a post about Alaska’s Permanent Fund, which pools the state’s oil revenue and pays out cash dividends to eligible Alaskans.
Stockton, California, became the first U.S. city to experiment with the idea in 2019 by giving $500 debit cards every month to 125 residents who earn less than $46,000 annually. Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs and Brown are both part of a group of 25 mayors pushing for a national system of direct payments to vulnerable families.
“I look forward to seeing the data support what Mayor Brown already knows to be true of her constituents: poverty stems from a lack of cash, not a lack of character,” he said in a statement.