Guaranteed Income FAQ

  1. What is a guaranteed income?
  2. What’s the difference between guaranteed income and a cash transfer program? What’s the difference between conditional and unconditional programs?
  3. What is basic income?
  4. What is Universal Basic Income or UBI?
  5. How is guaranteed income different from existing benefit programs in the United States?
  6. If a guaranteed income program were to be implemented, would recipients have to give up any existing benefits they qualify for?
  7. Some people talk about guaranteed income and automation together. What is the relationship between guaranteed income and automation?
  8. What are some other arguments in support of creating a guaranteed income policy such as universal basic income?
  9. What are some arguments against creating a guaranteed income policy such as universal basic income?
  10. Does UBI have broader effects on the economy?
  11. Does The Jain Family Institute study the impact of guaranteed income policies on inflation?
  12. Does the research show that guaranteed income cash transfer recipients quit their jobs and spend the money on alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs?
  13. So what does the research show? How do people spend their money?
  14. How do we study what the recipients spend the cash transfer money on?
  15. Are any guaranteed income pilots or policies currently operating in the US, and how much money do participants receive?
  16. How are these pilots being funded (both the disbursement and research)?
  17. How would a policy for an entire city, state, or country be funded?
  18. Why not enact a full-scale policy rather than piloting?
  19. What’s the history of Guaranteed Income?
  20. How is The Jain Family Institute involved with guaranteed income?
  21. Does The Jain Family Institute advocate a full-scale guaranteed income policy?
  22. Does The Jain Family Institute work with any guaranteed income projects that are currently underway?
  23. What else does The Jain Family Institute do on guaranteed income?
  24. Can I be a guaranteed income recipient in a UBI pilot?
  25. How can I get involved in a pilot/demonstration?
  26. Who else has The Jain Family Institute partnered with?
  27. Where can I access The Jain Family Institute’s past cash transfer research?

  1. What is a guaranteed income?
    Guaranteed income is a type of cash transfer program that provides continuous unconditional cash transfers to individuals or households. This differs from typical social safety net policies by providing a steady, predictable stream of cash to recipients to spend however they see fit without limitations.
    Guaranteed income policies and their variants, including basic income, citizen dividends, partial basic income, and universal basic income, have minimal or no eligibility requirements. A guaranteed income may or may not meet basic needs.

  2. What’s the difference between guaranteed income and a cash transfer program? What’s the difference between conditional and unconditional programs?
    Cash transfer programs are a broader category that includes guaranteed income programs. A cash transfer program is any program that offers direct cash assistance to an individual or household.
    Cash transfers are called unconditional when receiving the cash doesn’t depend upon whether recipients perform any particular activities.
    Cash transfers are called conditional when recipients must perform certain activities such as working or attending school, when the transfers are targeted at a particular group, or when the transfer is “means tested,” meaning that the assistance is reduced or stopped as the recipient earns more money.

  3. What is basic income?
    Basic income is a type of cash transfer program that provides cash sufficient to meet basic needs of all individuals or households in a given area. The amount offered may be pegged to area median income or the local poverty rate. Variations on this policy include targeted basic income, which has a selection criteria, a partial basic income that provides cash transfers which are not sufficient to meet basic needs, and Universal Basic Income.

  4. What is Universal Basic Income or UBI?
    A universal basic income is a type of basic income that would be provided to everybody in a community, regardless of socioeconomic or employment status. UBI policies have very few or no eligibility restrictions (e.g., employment, household income, or other similar factors are not considered).

  5. How is guaranteed income different from existing benefit programs in the United States?
    Guaranteed income provides direct cash assistance whereas U.S. social safety net policies such as EITC, Medicaid, and SNAP provide conditional, means-tested, and often in-kind benefits (like food or housing). Additionally, U.S. safety net programs typically target specific populations and the benefits typically come with conditions such as employment, income or assets below a particular value, a criminal record free of convictions for drug-related offenses, or the presence of minors in the household. While these programs are valuable, they come with restricted use. For example, a housing voucher cannot pay for education or clothes.

  6. If a guaranteed income program were to be implemented, would recipients have to give up any existing benefits they qualify for?
    Guaranteed Income programs are implemented by governments. The impact on benefits therefore depends on who implements and funds the guaranteed income: federal, state, or municipal entities. Protecting people’s benefits is very important to the governments that the Jain Family Institute works with; in each of our exploratory demonstration and pilots we have worked with federal, state and local government officials to protect recipients’ benefits during and after the pilots.

  7. Some people talk about guaranteed income and automation together. What is the relationship between guaranteed income and automation?
    Some people think that AI or robots are going to take everyone’s jobs. Although the threat of the robot apocalypse is often exaggerated, and not substantiated, the “perceived” threat of loss of jobs due to automation has increased public insecurity when it comes to wages.
    But the idea that automation poses a unique threat to everyone’s employment is controversial and ultimately not necessary to make the case for a guaranteed income. It is true that some of the most vocal current advocates of a guaranteed income (for example, Elon Musk) argue that we need this policy because of the threat of automation. However, scholars, government officials and community leaders have advocated for guaranteed income programs for decades and for many different reasons. Generally speaking, guaranteed income is something that could help people who would otherwise fall through the cracks during times of great transition, including automation, as well as trade and broader changes in the orientation of the economy.

  8. What are some other arguments in support of creating a guaranteed income policy such as universal basic income?
    Guaranteed income gives individuals and communities more choice. By providing unconditional cash support, a guaranteed income program can give each person the ability to make choices about how to best use the funds.
    Guaranteed income can be a component of a rights-based rethinking of public policy, wherein members of a community receive an unconditional basic income as a human right. Ensuring a fixed standard of living as a basic right could empower people to invest in their present lives and their future.
    A guaranteed income policy may also help us address some economic and social challenges we face in the 21st century. Income inequality is at its highest rate since 1928, right before the Great Depression. Growing rates of inequality are a symptom of structural changes in our labor markets: real wages have failed to rise with productivity and inflation since the mid-1970s.
    The Great Recession demonstrated to many policy makers the dangers in having a social safety net so tied to work. The credit boom and seemingly strong economy of the 1990s and early 2000s masked the consequences of making welfare policies temporary and work-conditioned program, and of shifting so much of our support for families into the earned income tax credit. The EITC was not available to the unemployed and TANF with its attached work requirements and lifetime benefit limitations could not expand to counter the effects of the recession.

  9. What are some arguments against creating a guaranteed income policy such as universal basic income?
    Basic income can disincentivize recipients from working and there may be important benefits to work beyond associated earnings, including to mental and physical health and connection to a larger community.
    A universal basic income would be extremely expensive ($3 trillion a year, by one estimate) and that money might be better spent in other ways. A related critique focuses on the value of universal versus targeted transfers: is it better to give some money to many people or a larger amount to a smaller, needier group of people?
    Some have argued that individuals may make poor choices (i.e., increase the use of alcohol and drugs) or use the money for unnecessary purposes.

  10. Does UBI have broader effects on the economy?
    Research on the cost-effectiveness and “distributional” implications of guaranteed income programs is still in its infancy, but with our macroeconomic modelling work (see “inflation” below), JFI will provide answers to some of the questions that underlie this debate.

  11. Does The Jain Family Institute study the impact of guaranteed income policies on inflation?
    Yes, JFI is exploring this question through the use of macroeconomic models and simulations. This work is parallel to our pilot efforts and is informed, in part, by findings from them.

  12. Does the research show that guaranteed income cash transfer recipients quit their jobs and spend the money on alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs?
    No. This is a common misconception. Numerous studies of cash transfer programs around the world have shown that recipients do not increase their use of alcohol or drugs. While some individuals do work less, the overall effect is modest. Those who do cut back on work also appear to devote more time to job training, education, or their kids.

  13. So what does the research show? How do people spend their money?
    Extensive social science research on cash transfer programs around the world shows that cash transfers increase human capital investment, food security, durable good consumption (buying a cow, a car, a refrigerator), and improvement of well-being.

  14. How do we study what the recipients spend the cash transfer money on?
    Researchers survey recipients about how they’re using the money—and how the money affects their finances, decision-making, wellbeing, and more— throughout a pilot and afterwards. Social scientists have developed a variety of established surveying techniques to get accurate information from recipients. For some guaranteed income studies, researchers use administrative data, health records, and so on to see how recipients fare.

  15. Are any guaranteed income pilots or policies currently operating in the US, and how much money do participants receive?
    Yes, there are several pilots and policies currently running or in development.
    Among pilots, the size of the transfers vary, but the amount is meant to make a substantive difference in citizens’ lives. In general, the amount depends on the cost of living in a region, the poverty line, and so on. Here are some examples of current pilots:
    Stockton, CA: Participants receive $500/month
    Magnolia Mothers: Participants receive $1000/month
    Y Combinator Research (research phase): Participants will receive $1000/month
    Perhaps the most prominent example of a guaranteed income policy in the US is the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, which was implemented in 1976 and distributes public earnings from state oil revenue in the form of a yearly lump sum payment to all Alaska residents that have lived within the state for a full calendar year and intend to remain Alaska residents indefinitely. Residents receive $1500-$2500 per year. The Dividend has been and continues to be the subject of research that can provide insights into the effects of cash transfers more generally.
    Some Native American tribes also distribute guaranteed incomes to their members. For example, The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have provided a guaranteed income to members since 1996, drawing from Casino revenue.

  16. How are these pilots being funded (both the disbursement and research)?
    All guaranteed income pilots currently underway in the U.S. have been privately funded with philanthropic dollars and/or institutional grants.

  17. How would a policy for an entire city, state, or country be funded?
    A universal guaranteed income policy at the municipal, state, or federal level can potentially be funded through a VAT tax, a carbon tax, a wealth tax, an increase in progressive income tax, a budget reallocation, or dividend from some kind of fund, like natural resources, casino revenue, some kind of sovereign or social wealth fund. This is an area of ongoing research.

  18. Why not enact a full-scale policy rather than piloting?
    JFI believes that guaranteed income programs are very promising. However, we believe that there’s still a lot to learn about the individual, community, and large-scale effects of these policies. Historically, policies implemented without prior evaluation have sometimes had reduced, negative, or unexpected impact on communities.
    While we know a fair amount about how a guaranteed income affects work and consumption, we still need to learn more before we can know whether a guaranteed income policy would be feasible and desirable in different environments. Researchers like those at The Jain Family Institute are, for example, looking into effects on physical and mental health, education, housing, and family life. And of course, they are looking out for unanticipated (positive or negative) effects.
    Enacting the policy on a small scale is the first step in determining the costs and logistical constraints that a larger-scale guaranteed income policy would entail. Pilots can allow us to develop the systems like disbursement that would be used in a full-scale policy.
    For evaluating guaranteed income, we are seeking a more in-depth understanding of economic, social, and psychological outcomes. We’ve designed our guaranteed income pilots and research to get to the heart of these open questions. Thus, JFI pilots serve multiple purposes:
    They allow policymakers to incorporate evidence into their decision-making.
    They allow testing of logistics and tools.
    They allow citizens to have an impact on policies that will affect them.
    They allow us to test long-term effects.
    We can study important effects and research questions of a large regular cash transfer that have not been deeply studied, such as changes in time use, looking beyond traditional understandings of labor and leisure, time and investment in child-care and job trainings, changes in community engagement, and qualitative understandings of lived experiences and well-being.

  19. What’s the history of Guaranteed Income?
    Although the conversation around UBI is having a recent revival, the concept is perennial, with early references to a guaranteed minimum income dating as far back as the sixteenth century. In Utopia, Thomas More proposed that providing “everyone with some means of livelihood” would be a more effective deterrence for theft than the death sentence. The sentiment that the state should guarantee citizens a secure subsistence has been echoed in the writings of Montesquieu, Thomas Paine, Charles Fourier, John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, Milton Friedman, and Martin Luther King, among others,though the underlying motivations and details of the proposals vary widely. Whereas Paine argued for a basic income on the premise of common ownership of the earth, others focused on the decoupling of work and income, equality of opportunity, redistribution of wealth, freedom (from state paternalism) or simplification of the welfare state.
    For more, please see this good overview from basicincome.org.

  20. How is The Jain Family Institute involved with guaranteed income?
    JFI research and services support many aspects of guaranteed income projects. Key services our experts provide include:
    Executing guaranteed income pilots and demonstrations. We coordinate with governments, non-profit organizations, and academics to design and implement guaranteed income programs that addresses partners’ goals.
    Building and conducting research. We look at key motivations for undertaking the demonstration and identify key outcomes that provide insights into the motivations.
    Building monitoring and evaluation frameworks. We design the data collection tools (e.g., surveys) to collect outcome data. We also design statistical techniques necessary to generate accurate and precise impact estimates. (Impact is the change in the outcome caused by the program as opposed to by other factors.)
    Advising our partners. Our partners are city and state governments. We provide support and advice throughout the process, guiding the entire team toward a meaningful, measurable outcome.
    Conducting literature reviews and developing syntheses to establish a research agenda for cash transfer policies.
    Carrying out or supporting research (simulations, modeling, tax/revenue) on macroeconomic effects and the viability and consequences of proposed financing mechanisms.

  21. Does The Jain Family Institute advocate a full-scale guaranteed income policy?
    Not right now. We think that the range of policies that fall under the guaranteed income umbrella are promising, and should be tested and examined. Before we advocate a guaranteed income policy, we’d need to be confident that it helps people and is a better use of funds than other social policies.

  22. Does The Jain Family Institute work with any guaranteed income projects that are currently underway?
    JFI staff serve as advisors on SEED, the Stockton guaranteed income pilot. We also are on Newark, New Jersey’s Guaranteed Income Task Force. JFI is also advising on or developing several pilots at the state and municipal level or run by non-profits; these pilots aren’t public yet.

  23. What else does The Jain Family Institute do on guaranteed income?
    In addition to pilots, JFI is working on several other projects to advance the field. A forthcoming review article will examine the state of evidence in guaranteed income research: what is already known and what outcomes and outcome domains should researchers focus on? We are also supporting work to model the effects of guaranteed income policies at a metropolitan or national level (see “inflation” below) to understand how such policies would affect employment, GDP and housing markets and how these effects would vary according to financing approach (e.g., paid for through income taxes, sales taxes, carbon taxes, etc.). Finally, we will soon launch the Cash Transfer Research Platform, a web portal that will serve as a resource to researchers and policymakers interested in guaranteed income research. We plan to offer survey instruments, public use files, and “how to” documents describing some of the challenges faced when launching pilots.

  24. Can I be a guaranteed income recipient in a UBI pilot?
    The work we do on pilots/demonstrations is experimental and randomized, so no one can currently opt into a pilot. (Randomization is a key aspect of social science experimental research!) Studies are randomized to allow unbiased collection of data.
    We are only aware of one JFI demonstration that is “opt in,” which is in Berlin, Germany.

  25. How can I get involved in a pilot/demonstration?
    Here are a few different ways you can get involved in a JFI pilot:
    -If you’re interested in being a JFI researcher, contact our director of research, Sidhya Balakrishnan.
    -If you want to build a pilot, contact UBI team lead Stephen Nuñez.
    -If you have a press inquiry about JFI, contact the JFI communications team.

  26. Who else has The Jain Family Institute partnered with?
    We’ve partnered with municipal governments, research organizations, universities, and nonprofits focused on income security.
    Some of our partners include:
    Economic Security Project
    Stanford Basic Income Lab
    Economic Security for Illinois
    Economic Development Corporation of NYC
    Economic Development Corporation of Newark
    The Newark Alliance
    The Heartland Alliance
    Reinvent South Stockton
    Columbia SIPA
    Basic Income Earth Network
    NABIG/USBIG
    To learn more about partnering with the Jain Family Institute, contact jfi@jainfamilyinstitute.org.

  27. Where can I access The Jain Family Institute’s past cash transfer research?
    We are in the process of building the Cash Transfer Research Platform, an online resource that will provide a portal for scholars and practitioners to help them carry out the necessary research. Sign up for our newsletter to receive alerts.