Local leaders across the United States are turning to private donors to fund an out-of-the-box policy experiment they think could go mainstream: Giving cash to residents, no strings attached.

Newark, Milwaukee and Stockton, Calif., are among the cities testing versions of what’s known as universal basic income, a program under which residents receive a set amount of money, regardless of their income level.

Universal basic income has long been discussed as a potential remedy for income inequality, but former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang thrust the idea into the national debate when he made it a centerpiece of his campaign. While Yang may now be out of the race, conversation around universal basic income isn’t going away.

Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, who is spearheading a pilot program in her city, said she hopes the local experiments prove so successful that they‘ll force action at the national level.

“I would love to see this spark a flame across the country,” she said.

At a time when Republicans are controlling the agenda in Washington, local officials in Democrat-controlled Newark, Milwaukee and Stockton see an opportunity for their cities to become laboratories for policy making. Not only will these experiments prompt more public discourse, but they‘ll likely add to the existing body of research on the subject.

The pilot programs in the three cities are in various stages of implementation, and it’s possible more cities will join the effort. The 18-month experiment in Stockton is more than halfway complete, while Newark and Milwaukee plan to launch their pilots later this year. Chicago is also considering a universal basic income program.
“It’s a novel idea, but I don’t think people take it seriously,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said in an interview. “That’s why it’s important for us to do these pilots, and show people the seriousness of this.”

In its truest form, universal basic income, sometimes referred to as guaranteed income, gives the same amount of money to residents regardless of income level.

In Stockton, 125 residents — all living at or below the median income level — receive $500 a month. Details of the Milwaukee and Newark pilots are still being worked out, but both Baraka and Lewis say they want to include residents who are living in poverty as well as those considered lower middle class.

Read the rest of Katherine Landergan’s article here at Politico