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360: Perspectives on whether Milwaukee offer a guaranteed income program like Madison

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Jul 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-22 19:20:18-04

MILWAUKEE — Would an extra $500 a month make a difference in your family’s budget? Dozens of cities across the country including Madison are participating in pilot programs to provide guaranteed income for people struggling to make ends meet.

These guaranteed income programs vary city by city. Most of them randomly select about 125 families to support for one to two years in an effort to reduce poverty. Some city leaders in Milwaukee started making plans a couple of years ago to launch a program here, but it’s currently stalled without a funding source.

Guaranteed income programs come with plenty of support to help those in need, but others struggle with who’s footing the bill and how few get the funding. Let’s go "360" to hear from a variety of perspectives. Madison’s mayor explains how its program got off the ground, Milwaukee’s mayor shares where the funds would need to come from to do the same, and an alderman explains why he feels it’s unnecessary, but we start with two Milwaukee residents who are at offs about whether it’s a good idea.

Tajohna Latson is a mother of a 2-year-old who would gladly accept $500 a month.

“It would help me with rent, daycare, I can’t qualify for anything so I feel like it would help me as far as like my child, energy bill, groceries, all of that,” she said.

Latson has a job to support her family, but she says inflation and higher rent prices leave her living paycheck-to-paycheck.

“You can’t get an extra job when you’ve got to take care of your kids and home. It’s not that easy to work two jobs,” she said.

Sadeja Brown says she isn’t for or against guaranteed income, but she struggles with how many people would receive help.

“I don’t think that would be fair because there’s more than 120 or 150 families that are under the poverty line so I honestly wouldn’t think that’s fair,” she said.

The latest U.S. Census data shows about 25 percent of Milwaukee residents live below the federal poverty line, which breaks down to 142,000 people. Brown says she works full-time as a school bus driver to support her two kids.

“To me, it will also create a path where people will just forget about going to look for employment as well,” she said.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway says her city’s program just launched and the process of randomly selecting applicants is underway.

“We opened the application period for I think just over a week,” she said. “We received thousands of applications which I think is a testament to the need in our community and in particular the growing need for families to have more stable income.”

The whole idea of guaranteed income started a few years ago in Stockton, California. A study of its results found participants spent 37 percent of the funds on food, 22 percent on home goods, clothing, and shoes, followed by utilities and auto costs. Less than 1 percent was spent on alcohol and tobacco.

Mayor Rhodes-Conway says 155 Madison families who make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line will receive $500 a month for an entire year. That means families of four would need to make less than $55,500 a year to qualify. That totals up to a cost of $930,000, but Rhodes-Conway says none of that money is coming from the city.

“One of the reasons I didn’t think we were going to be able to do this here in Madison (was) because I was not in a position to use city tax dollars to fund a program like this and so it really was the initial grant from Mayors for a Guaranteed Income that started to make it possible, but then I went out to our private sector and to philanthropy and I asked them to participate in this and we got a very positive response,” she said.

Milwaukee’s proposed guaranteed income plan would allow 125 families at or below the city’s median income to get $500 a month for a year and a half. That comes out to about $1.1 million.

“I’m open to the idea of a guaranteed income program in Milwaukee, my concern is how are we going to pay for it,” Mayor Cavalier Johnson said. “That’s the issue.”

Mayor Johnson says, unlike Madison, private funding or grants haven’t been secured in Milwaukee.

Alderman Mark Borkowski’s concerns go beyond the funding source.

“People say, ‘well, there’s a lot of jobs that pay $12 an hour or $15 an hour and you can’t make it’, well again, if there’s a will there’s a way,” he said.

Alderman Borkowski thinks people should consider getting a second or third job to support themselves or their families. Ultimately, he believes the small number of families who would be selected would leave more people upset than happy.

“If you’re going to give it to two families then give it to every family,” he said. “I don’t know how you can then divide, alright? The concept should be all or nothing. All or nothing.”

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