Elected Official Update: Universal Basic Income and the Denver Basic Income Project

By Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca

This month, the city of Denver will be investing $2 million of our American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds into the Denver Basic Income Project (DBIP), a year-long demonstration project of 820 individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Candi CdeBaca

Anyone who’s lived in Denver for at least five years knows the pinch of the cost of living. Even with minimum wage increases over the last couple of years, the average person cannot keep up with the unchecked rise in our cost of living.

During the last presidential election, mid-pandemic, an old concept called Universal Basic Income was reintroduced on the national stage by then-presidential candidate and businessman Andrew Yang.

Prior to the pandemic, the concept was considered wild, utopian, and impossible to implement. But by the middle of the pandemic, we were actually implementing the beginning stages of the concept via both pandemic relief checks and unemployment insurance.

Today, several cities across the nation are piloting the concept in different iterations as a potentially scalable solution to the changing nature of “work” in our society due to advancements in technology that include automation and artificial intelligence.

Generally speaking, in its purest form Universal Basic Income is designed to be a cash payment granted by the government to any and all people in a city, state, or country on a regular basis, regardless of employment status or income level and without any means testing.

It is meant to be distributed directly to an individual; unconditional, meaning no sobriety or other requirements; universal, meaning that it is available to anyone regardless of financial assets or income; disbursed at predictable intervals for stability in financial planning; and above all, basic, meaning that the amount is set to sufficiently meet the basic needs of the recipients.

In order to meet the basic needs of an individual in Denver, one would think any successful pilot should be based on the area’s cost of living and minimum cost of housing. Denver’s monthly cost of living is 14% higher than the national average, with housing being 38% higher than the national average.

According to the handy tool at paycalculator.com, a monthly basic income in Denver should probably be at minimum in the range of paying for median rent at $1,683, energy at $140, phone service at $154, and a rough estimate of $100 for transportation— totalling $2,077 per month.

This does not include food, healthcare, personal care, education, nor the internet. DBIP is individual and predictably disbursed, but it is not universal or unconditional. It is targeted exclusively to sober unhoused individuals. The demonstration project will study the impact of different frequencies and amounts of money distributed on an individual’s self-sufficiency and path to permanent housing and wellness.

As such, the demonstration project is not perfect, nor a full exploration of UBI in its purest form. But as one of several pilot projects nationally, it will contribute to the overall understanding of UBI as a tool that can allow everyone in a given population to benefit from that population’s wealth.

The full analysis of outcomes across pilots will also let us know if UBI is a potential stepping stone to a natural resource-based or post-scarcity economy where all people can easily have their basic survival needs met along with some significant proportion of their desires for goods and services.

Whether the DBIP succeeds or fails in its immediate goals, it points us to ways this tool can be strengthened for the greater good and future of our societies.

Candi CdeBaca is the councilwoman who represents District 9, which includes Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea neighborhoods. She was elected to council in 2019.

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