America’s first ever city-led “guaranteed basic income” program, which is offering $500 a month for 18 months to randomly selected residents of Stockton, CA, is experiencing an unexpected snag: people aren’t signing up in the numbers they expected.
As reported by CBS Sacramento a few weeks ago, the experimental program, the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), intends to test the effectiveness of the radical concept of a guaranteed basic income. It will be the first basic income program implemented by a U.S. city.
The plan was to send out about 1,200 letters to households making $46,000 or less which ask them to sign up for the chance to be one of the 100 households selected to receive $500 per month for a year and a half.
“The letter 1,200 people will be receiving over the next few days does not mean people will automatically receive money but it brings them closer to potentially being selected,” CBS13 reported in early December. A team of independent researchers would then select 100 of the respondents to received the income supplement, which amounts to a total of $9,000 per household over the next 18 months.
The goal of the SEED program is to study how that extra income every month impacts the recipients’ health and stress levels and to see if it improves their sense of economic security, CBS13 noted. Those who received the letter have been given a December 23rd deadline to fill out the online consent form.
“Around this country, especially in communities like Stockton, people are working incredibly hard and falling further and further behind. We have people in our community that work two or three jobs, we have people that are working and still can’t pay rent,” said Mayor Michael Tubbs.
But in a follow-up report, CBS details an unexpected development: For some reason, people aren’t signing up as enthusiastically as the researchers hoped. With the deadline for responses looming, SEED officials are trying to encourage people who received the letter to fill out the consent form.
“We’re looking for at least half of the folks who have received the letter to respond back because it gives the evaluators a chance to select the 100 people from that group,” said Mayor Tubbs.
“It’s not a scam, it’s not a hoax,” he assured the public. “It’s a chance to be part of this groundbreaking program.”
The notion that recipients aren’t responding to the letter because it looks like a scam has some merits. As an image provided by CBS13 shows, the letter simply includes the “SEED” logo, which probably isn’t likely to be familiar to many, and the letter is addressed generically to the home, not a particular person in the household.
CBS spoke with a few people who were supposed to have received a letter, one of which said she’s been checking every day since she learned about the SEED program but hasn’t seen anything yet. Another person who might benefit by the program said she’s been trying to convince her mom to let her apply for the money, but her mom’s not having it. “No I’m going to apply because I pay the rent here, but we can share it,'” she said her mother told her.
If researchers don’t get enough replies by the December 23 deadline, CBS reports, it’s “back to the drawing board,” which will likely include more letters — hopefully next time produced in a way that doesn’t scream “scam.”