Wausau Becomes First Wisconsin City With Guaranteed Income Pilot Program
February 16, 2021
On February 9, the Wausau City Council voted unanimously to support a resolution establishing a guaranteed income pilot program for Wausau residents. That makes it the first city in Wisconsin to advance a guaranteed income pilot program, to be launched in 2021 for 18 months.
Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg, a member of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (MGI), welcomed this advancement of cash-based policies. “Cash with no strings attached is a powerful way to combat poverty efficiently while maintaining dignity and autonomy,” she said in a press release. “Our people are the lifeblood of Wausau’s local economy. It’s critical that we open up both resources and opportunities to residents in an effort to not only expand our economy but also ensure that no one gets left behind in the wake of the pandemic’s heavy economic toll.”
The concept of a guaranteed income first came into the national spotlight when advocated by then-Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. He proposed a $1,000 base income for every American during his run for president. Although Yang eventually dropped out of the 2020 race, the idea of guaranteed income has continued.
Launched in June 2020 to fight systemic poverty, MGI is made up of 36 mayors committed to an eventual federal guaranteed income and promotes the idea of recurring payments given as cash to poor and middle class people. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently donated $15M to MGI’s pilot funding program. MGI member cities are eligible for grants up to $500,000 to launch their pilot programs. The programs are part of a study conducted by MGI partner the University of Pennsylvania, which tracks data on what people need to lift themselves out of poverty.
Rosenberg told Wisconsin Public Radio’s Here & Now Host Marisa Wojcik that guaranteed income is all about leveling the financial playing field for poor and middle-income families. “It is very targeted at the folks who need it the most,” she said. “What we’re seeing in the pilot programs is anywhere from 18 families to maybe 150 who apply to be a part of this, and they’ll get $500 per month for a year to a year-and-a-half.” During this time, the University of Pennsylvania will track data from these programs to advance its study.
In Wausau, Rock 94.7 reported that the program will most likely target United Way ALICE households—Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. “We are talking about people who probably are already working,” Rosenberg explained. “Maybe they are working three jobs. I’m assuming when we enter this program we’ll work with local agencies and determine what criteria must be met.” She said some things likely to be on an eligibility checklist are job and household status. A similar program in Pittsburgh targeted Black women because they had the worst poverty outcomes.
Rosenberg said that the idea of the pilot program has received criticism from those who believe the government should not give handouts. But, she countered, “this is really an opportunity to supplement an income or supplement what people are bringing in from other sources rather than replacing it.”
“I understand,” she continued, “that there are philosophical differences, especially approaching public policy in this way… We’re not locking ourselves into a program that will go on through eternity… It is science. It is a research project. It is 18 months, and then we’re out. It is building up a bigger policy discussion…, building up that data.”
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is also a MGI member. Madison received a $500,000 grant from MGI in December and is currently working to set up its own pilot program, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.