A series on how to implement guaranteed income in the U.S.

From Idea to Reality: Getting to Guaranteed Income

In This Series


This series is meant to explore some of the key questions and obstacles that policymakers and advocates will face in pursuing some form of national guaranteed income.

With guaranteed income increasingly in the policy mainstream, and governments and foundations experimenting with cash transfers as a means for blunting the impact of Covid-19, much remains unknown about how to design such policies most effectively. Drawn from several contributors and with guidance from experts across a range of related disciplines, this series aims to envision what comes next.

The power of cash transfers is well-established. Ample research shows that unrestricted cash assistance can not only alleviate material hardship but also reduce domestic violence, generate investments in education, and improve physical and mental wellbeing. At the same time, fears of attendant declines in labor force participation or increases in spending on temptation goods have proven unfounded. We are heartened to see a growing consensus around the viability of such policies as a means to combat inequality and amplify the existing social safety net.

Of course, cash transfers can take many forms. And, as many of the governmental and philanthropic responses to Covid-19 have revealed, any cash transfer policy is only as effective as the identification and disbursement systems that underlie it. What infrastructure is needed to make a national basic income possible? How large, and frequent, should such transfers be? How will they be funded? And how can the political will be mobilized to realize them?

In order to take guaranteed income seriously as policy – and we should – advocates and program designers must begin confronting these questions. In the following papers, our experts put forward preliminary answers of their own. Each focuses on a key element of guaranteed income policy: the necessary infrastructure; the ideal benefit; the financing; and the path to political viability. Each surveys the relevant literature and ongoing implementation efforts to chart what we know and what remains to be learned – all in an attempt to provide a roadmap for policymakers committed to making a national basic income a reality.

Part 1

Building a Helicopter: Pathways for Targeting & Distributing a US Guaranteed Income

Unprecedented levels of unemployment and income loss stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have left many Americans unable to afford basic necessities such as food and housing. In response, governments, philanthropies and nonprofits have turned to temporary unconditional cash assistance. This process has revealed major weaknesses in our existing systems for distributing “helicopter money” – emergency infusions of cash. This paper asks: what kind of identification and disbursement architecture do we need to do better?
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Part 2

Reweaving the Safety Net: The Best Fit for Guaranteed Income

The second installment reviews the literature on cash assistance, indexes current income support and insurance programs, and offers insights on where and how best a guaranteed income could fit into this landscape. The paper also examines key open questions about optimal amount and frequency of cash transfers.
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Part 3

The Macroeconomics of Guaranteed Income and the Implications of Financing Options

Anticipated in Spring 2021

Part 4

The Political Economy of Guaranteed Income: Navigating the political and public spheres

Anticipated in Summer 2021

Position Post

Claudia Sahm on evidence for $1400 relief and recovery checks

Drawing on over a decade of research, JFI Senior Fellow Claudia Sahm presents evidence in favor of additional $1400 checks for all those that received $600 in 2019. Published February 17, 2021.
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