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

From Idea to Reality: Getting to Guaranteed Income


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

Model Behavior: A Critical Review of Macroeconomic Models for Guaranteed Income and The Child Tax Credit

This third report in our “Getting to Guaranteed Income” series shares the lessons from six macroeconomic modeling analyses of the possible effects of a federal guaranteed income policy on the U.S. economy. The report also applies the studies’ findings to the current Child Tax Credit.

For an overview of the paper’s key findings for policymakers, view the recording of our 15-minute briefing with lead author Claudia Sahm from November 1st, 2021.

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Part 4

The Political Economy of Guaranteed Income: Where Do We Go From Here?

This paper is the fourth and final in a series on “Getting to Guaranteed Income,” analyzing the research to date on practical questions related to guaranteed income policy design at the federal level in the US.

This final paper captures a key moment in the quickly evolving movement for cash policy, with a retrospective on the past few years’ acceleration in cash policy legislation and public debate, and an analysis of the opportunities and challenges for guaranteed income to become national policy in the years to come–incorporating lessons from other movements. While past white papers in this series have explained some of the practical questions involved in “getting to guaranteed income,” this paper instead focuses on operationalizing the recommendations of the previous papers, suggesting ways to navigate the complex political and public spheres at this turning point for guaranteed income policy.

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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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Position Post

Paul Williams and James Medlock on paternalism, market failures, and welfare policy in the US

In a recent piece for Real Clear Policy, conservative scholar Scott Winship presented a case against giving cash benefits to the poor. Despite Winship’s criticisms, Congress and the Biden administration proposed changes to the structure of the Child Tax Credit program—increasing the size of the credit, making it unconditional on income, and allowing it to be paid out monthly rather than in a lump sum at the end of the tax year—which recently became law under the American Rescue Plan. Winship’s argument is worth examining for what it illuminates about the role of paternalism in safety net policy, and persistent misunderstandings about market choice and market failure that shape welfare policy discourse in the United States. June 22, 2021.
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Research Brief

Claudia Sahm on the effects of $1,400 relief payments on families and the economy

In one of the first studies of the effects of $1,400 stimulus payments issued under the American Rescue Plan, “They Worked: The effects of $1,400 stimulus checks on families and the economy,” JFI Senior Fellow Claudia Sahm draws on new survey data demonstrating how families made use of the third round of cash relief. July 16, 2021.
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Position Paper

JFI Position on Guaranteed Income, August 2021

A new position paper by JFI’s guaranteed income research team brings together years of policy research to define basic parameters for a guaranteed income. The paper covers the aspects that overwhelming evidence suggests may create a more robust safety net in the United States, in tandem with existing programs.

The paper presents a position on those parameters that are well supported by evidence; as new research takes place, JFI will continue to build out additional details.

Full paper here. Press release here. August 26, 2021.

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Policy Brief

Assessing Non-filer Rates and Poverty Impacts for the Expanded CTC

The brief provides results of a range of scenarios for CTC take-up rates among eligible children, showing poverty reduction resulting from the American Rescue Plan Act’s expanded Child Tax Credit depends on enrollment of millions accessing other benefits.

While the CTC has reached more than 60 million eligible children and recently launched an improved non-filer enrollment portal, the impacts on child poverty could be greatly diminished if policymakers do not ensure poor non-filers receive the CTC. In addition to the immense ongoing outreach efforts, better administration is possible through data sharing to enroll those families accessing other benefits systems.  

Read the full brief here or press release of key takeaways here.

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