Boulder proposing guaranteed income pilot program

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022 (Updated Tuesday, Feb. 8)

With millions of federal dollars in hand, Boulder is poised to give low-earning residents what they need most: Cash, to spend on whatever they like.

City are proposing a guaranteed income pilot program, starting this year and running through 2024. Unlike most government assistance, it would not come with strings or restrictions, but allow recipients the freedom to put the money toward whatever they need most.

“The basic concept,” staff wrote in notes to council, released Thursday, “is to provide a flexible, regular cash payment to low-income residents to be able to utilize as individuals and families need without the categorical restrictions within most assistance programs.”

It’s not the same as Universal Basic Income, perhaps a more well-known concept. UBI aims to cover the costs of basic needs for everyone. Guaranteed income is smaller payments to a smaller group of people; typically the poorest among a given population.

A handful of U.S. cities have guaranteed or basic income programs, including Denver. California’s governor last year provided $35 million in the state budget for municipalities to launch their own. The National League of Cities, of which Boulder is a member, produced a report on UBI highlighting its long history, global application and myriad of benefits, from declining generational poverty to increased housing security and school enrollment, improved nutrition and overall better health.

“While the community social safety net has provided additional support to help community members weather the pandemic,” staff noted, “one of the most consistent requests is in flexible cash for a variety of needs.”

Details on who would be eligible and how much they would receive are TBD. Staff did not provide specifics, but asked for $250,000 to “explore the feasibility of, and potentially launch” a pilot program. Up to $2.75 million would be needed to run the pilot program through 2024.

Funds would come from the feds, via the American Rescue Plan Act. Boulder is receiving $20 million over two years; half in July 2021 and half this summer.

The city already allocated ~$5 million to restore city services and staff cut during COVID ($868,600) and aid community members and businesses ($2.1 million), with $2 million set aside for unanticipated costs related to the pandemic. $350,000 went to providing $250 bonuses for city employees who received the COVID vaccination, and $75,000 purchased masks in bulk for area businesses to provide to patrons.

Staff sent its recommendations for the rest of the money to council this week. Elected officials will discuss them February 15; final recommendations will be added into the 2022 budget after a March 15 public hearing.

Round 2 recommendations – $4.376 million

$500,000 for

  • Direct financial assistance
  • Emergency food assistance
  • Childcare
  • Transportation assistance
  • Digital divide assistance 

$620,000 for

  • Small biz programming, grants
  • Outdoor dining pilot
  • Tourism promotion
  • Workforce training

$191,000 for emergency response connectors

  • “The direct purpose of the ERC program is to ensure underrepresented community members in Boulder (e.g., Latinx, Nepali, low-income) experience response and recovery activities. Data suggests that most unrepresented communities experienced, and continue to experience, disproportionate impact due to COVID.”
  • Pay for part-time, fixed-term employee to oversee program

$250,00 for guaranteed income pilot program

  • Details above

$1.5M for Homeless Solutions: Building Home

  • “Daytime programming, peer support services, and in-home wellness services aimed at improving housing retention and building community within the cohort of people ready to be housed or recently housed within Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC)”
  • “Structured daytime programming, tenant-related education (understanding leases, how to take care of a home, cooking, etc.) and a venue for job assistance (resume writing, computer searches, etc.)”
  •  Would allow for coordinated case management services

$50,000 for Fiber / Smart Cities Phase 2

  • Design work for fiber broadband buildout
  • Potential opportunity to leverage additional fed infrastructure dollars if design is complete by the time that funding is available

$100,000 to update economic sustainability strategy

  • Last updated in 2013
  • “To better reflect the economic conditions the community faces coming out of the pandemic, strengthen economic resilience and help prepare for the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan Update” in 2025
  • Potential to leverage other economic recovery money from feds
  • Up to $1.2M set aside for economic recovery ID’d in strategy (Tranche 3, below)

$915,000 for arts workforce grants

  • “A hiring incentive for nonprofits to employ Boulder-area visual, performing, and literary artists to perform or create new work.”
  • “An enhancement grant for recipients of operating support to rehire of arts administration positions that were eliminated due to the pandemic.”

$300,000 to reestablish arts and culture programs suspended during COVID

  • City arts dept will hire economic staff position
  • “Neighborhood art commissions will create social practice art projects for one year”
  • Second round of COVID-19 Work Projects

Round 3 recommendations (after July 2022 payment) – $15.45 million

Up to $2.5M to strengthen behavioral health services

  • “Support professional mental health staff hiring and retention incentives and related capacity-building service”

Up to $50,000 for digital divide work

  • Solutions needed until fiber network is built out

Up to $1.5M for childcare

  • Provide training, resources to at-home childcare biz
  • Provide money to low-income families for childcare
  • Increase capacity at existing childcare biz

Up to $2.75M for guaranteed income

  • Details above

Up to $4M for annexation of the San Lazaro mobile home community

  • Will provide water, wastewater services
  • Estimated costs: $1M for water connections, $2M for wastewater and $1M in fees
  • Typically paid by property owner

Up to $1.5M to support mobile home communities

  • Ponderosa Second Mortgage program, to help lower costs of replacing older mobile homes with new, fixed-foundation homes from Habitat for Humanity. As with mobile homes, residents will own the buildings and lease the land under them.

Up to $1.2M for economic recovery

  • Could help pay for training required for many jobs (Commercial Driver’s License, CPR, de-escalation training, etc.)
  • Could help pay for / create space for commercial kitchens, labs, research facilities, etc.

Author’s note: This article has been updated to reflect a scheduling change.

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

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