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Bill banning basic income programs, like UpLift in central Iowa, passes Iowa House

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Bill banning basic income programs, like UpLift in central Iowa, passes Iowa House

Mar 04, 2024 | 7:22 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
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Bill banning basic income programs, like UpLift in central Iowa, passes Iowa House
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The bill would specifically ban a pilot program called UpLift that provides a guaranteed income of $500 a month to 110 people in central Iowa. (Photo by BetterPhoto/iStock/Getty Images)

Iowa cities and counties could not enact guaranteed income programs under a bill passed Monday by the Iowa House.

House File 2319 passed 55-43 Monday. In banning guaranteed income programs, the legislation also allows the state attorney general to bring local governments to court if they do not obey a cease-and-desist letter about adoption, enforcement or maintenance of a prohibited program.

The legislation would specifically affect the UpLift program in Iowa — a pilot program launched in 2023 by the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania. UpLift provides 110 individuals a supplemental income of $500 per month. Participants are adults living in Polk, Dallas or Warren county with at least one dependent with a household income at or below 60% the area median income.

The program, evaluating the impact of a guaranteed income program on people’s health, well-being and financial security, receives funding by private partners including the Mid-Iowa Health, Principal and Wells Fargo foundations, as well as public partners including the cities of Des Moines, Urbandale and Windsor Heights, and Polk County.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, emphasized during debate that the UpLift program is a research study looking at ways to address generational poverty. The people currently in the UpLift program are living on low incomes, she said — and 68% of the participants are working. Citing research from Common Good Iowa, a public policy advocacy organization, Wessel-Kroeschell said  one in seven working Iowa households face difficulties meeting basic needs with their current earnings.

“No one can live on $500 a month,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “But $500 a month might help ease some of the stressors of poverty, car repairs, furnace and other appliance repairs.”

The bill’s floor manager, Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, spoke in opposition to guaranteed income programs at large, saying they are not the most effective way to address poverty. He cited studies that suggest basic income programs are less effective than other government welfare programs, or that such programs effectively subsidize employers who pay low wages and do not offer consistent work.

Holt also said he believed guaranteed income benefits could be abused by people who do not want to work. He pointed to programs in the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s where studies found that people receiving basic incomes worked fewer hours than those who did not.

“I think when people work and earn their income, there’s great dignity in that,” Holt said. “And income that is actually earned motivates people to work to be successful, to work cooperatively with others, to gain skills and to earn their way up the ladder of success.”

Other Democrats called the legislation an overstep on local control, as state funds are not involved in current programs like UpLift. Holt argued that state lawmakers still have a role in looking out for Iowa taxpayers on this issue, as federal funding is being used on basic income programs. He also said the Legislature has the authority to mandate policies to Iowa localities for “important principles and policies” — and that banning basic income programs falls into that category.

“In this case, the importance of protecting our work ethic and preventing an increase in government dependence trumps the local control argument,” Holt said. “Just as we do not allow cities and counties to have differing laws on murder, we’re not going to allow cities and counties to murder our work ethic.”

The bill goes next to the Senate for consideration. If enacted, the bill would require existing programs end by Jan. 1, 2025 or earlier — cutting off the UpLift program before its scheduled end in April 2025.