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Legislature approves ban on local guaranteed income programs


Legislature approves ban on local guaranteed income programs

Apr 16, 2024 | 8:46 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
Legislature approves ban on local guaranteed income programs
Local governments would be prohibited from implementing guaranteed income programs that provide money to individuals not tied to work or other requirements. (Photo via Getty Images)

Iowa lawmakers have sent to Gov. Kim Reynolds a bill banning local governments from implementing guaranteed income programs.

The legislation, House File 2319, would largely impact the UpLift program in central Iowa that provides 110 people with a supplemental income of $500 per month with no work requirements or restrictions on how the money can be spent. The pilot program, launched by the Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement with support from the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania in 2023, seeks to evaluate how guaranteed income programs can impact participants’ health, well-being and financial security.

In Iowa, the program is working with adults living in Polk, Dallas and Warren counties with household incomes at or below 60% the area median income and who have at least one dependent. The program is receiving funding from the cities of Des Moines, Urbandale and Windsor Heights, and Polk County, as well as private partners such as the Mid-Iowa Health and Wells Fargo foundations.

If signed into law, the legislation would ban local governments from implementing similar programs, allowing the state attorney general’s office to send cease-and-desist letters to localities trying to make payments to individuals through a guaranteed income program. It also sets Jan. 1, 2025, end date for current programs — meaning UpLift would not be able to reach its scheduled conclusion in May 2025.

Democrats argued the bill, passed 35-13, prevents local governments from experimenting with the best methods to address poverty in their own communities. Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, said the issue is one of local control. While local government funding has been used in part for the program, no state funding has been put toward UpLift or any other guaranteed basic income program.

“This is the province of local government — to experiment, to see what works, to run pilot programs,” Weiner said. “If it doesn’t work, if people don’t like them, they won’t be elected the next time. It’s the place for these sorts of of experiments. Please do not preempt local government.”

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said the program’s payments largely go to women and children — many of them single mothers — who need the most support. While the Republican-led legislature has not taken any action to support Iowans in the most need, he said, local governments are trying to help families in their communities.

“Not only do we have to do the best we can in the community that we live in, we have to fight off people like you, who want to come in to disrupt what we’re trying to do as a local government,” Bisignano said.

Bisignano also criticized Republicans for supporting government-funded payments like farming subsidies while opposing basic income programs.

“Whether you call it a subsidy or, when you don’t like it, a handout — what’s the difference?” Bisignano said.

The bill’s floor manager Sen. Scott Webster, R-Bettendorf, said that in the Senate, “we’ve done a lot of things in this particular chamber to help poverty,” and argued that other guaranteed income programs in the U.S. and abroad have shown that these supplemental payment programs do not help people escape poverty. Webster pointed to pilot programs in Canada and Finland that ended, which he said was because the initiatives were “driving people away from work.”

“So the studies have already been done,” Webster said. “Why do we need more studies? Why do we need to spend taxpayer dollars? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Webster attributed inflation, rising costs of living and other factors that keep struggling families from escaping poverty to President Joe Biden, and said guaranteed basic income programs are an attempt to use taxpayer dollars to offset the problems caused by Democrat-supported economic policies.

“Guess who’s left to always hold the bag?” Webster said. “The middle class and those who work hard every day. Now we need a program to help pay for that disaster. Iowa taxpayers — people who are working hard to make their lives better and their families — should not be on the hook for the Biden administration’s consequences of the policies.”