Las Cruces rolls out city's first publicly funded basic income program
Las Cruces’s first publicly funded guaranteed basic income program is in the works. The city-approved pilot project will allocate federal funds and provide monthly payments for a year and a half to qualifying low-income individuals, with the goal of evaluating recipient outcomes. This comes after some in the community took part in a privately funded GBI program sponsored by NM CAFé and other nonprofits.
Guaranteed basic income provides unconditional and unrestricted payments to help individuals with their basic needs. Last year, Cecilia, who asked to remain anonymous, received monthly $500 payments from a privately funded program that helped her and her family weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[NM CAFé] helped us when we got sick from COVID, they helped us with the food pantry, plus the help with the monthly payments,” she said.
This privately funded guaranteed basic income project allocated 330 families $500 per month and ended in January.
Vanessa Porter, community organizer at NM CAFé, said that data was not available yet for the privately funded program, but she said anecdotal evidence showed that the program was a success.
“Programs, the safety nets that we have, like food stamps and TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] are always great, but are they really the amount that we need?” she asked. “But cash is different, inflation is real, and sometimes we work our butts off and we can’t make ends meet.”
According to the Stanford University Basic Income Lab, the largest share of GBI expenditures amongst nationwide programs went to retail sales and services at 40%, followed by Food and groceries at 28%. According to an analysis by the university, “Evidence consistently demonstrates that unconditional cash in low and middle-income countries leads to a measurable decrease in poverty.”
With $1.7 million dollars of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, multiple nonprofits in the Las Cruces community will provide $500 monthly payments over 18 months to 150 eligible Las Cruces families. City Councilor Johana Bencomo said the program is meant to redefine the way the city looks at social safety nets.
“Often poverty programming in this country has been very prescriptive,” she said. “Those kind of programs obviously have not worked. So they need to be transformed. And GBI is saying on the policy level, the impact is [showing that] this is how we can better do anti-poverty programs that is really supporting families.”
The nonprofits behind the program are the Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico, FYI+, and Jardin de los Niños, and they’re partnering with New Mexico State University’s Crimson Research to evaluate the program’s effectiveness. Bencomo said she hopes the pilot program is just the beginning.
“It’s really informing how we can build policy around how we seriously tackle issues of poverty. Because I think for a long time government has said that’s not our responsibility, that is nonprofit responsibility, that is personal responsibility. But I fully push back and disagree and I think government should be taking a much more serious role in addressing poverty in our community, and I think GBI is going to show us the way,” she said.
While all six city councilors voted in favor of using federal funds for the program, Mayor Ken Miyagishima voted against it, and said the funds could have been better allocated elsewhere.
“I didn’t want it just to be a handout. I wanted it to be an opportunity to help someone. And that very well may be [the case,]” he said. “I hope it doesn’t just turn into, hey, I got this money, this is great. And okay, it ran out, so what am I going to do now?”
Miyagishima said the program is unsustainable from a funding perspective as the federal ARPA funds will eventually run out.
“We don’t have the money. I think what happens is some people need to have an understanding of what it takes to run a government,” he said. “I just don’t get it, some of my colleagues really need to learn a lesson in finance and economics here because they have no idea where [the] money comes from. I’m sorry. That should be something that they need to know. It just doesn’t come out of thin air. The reason why we are seeing a lot of inflation is because the country has printed a lot of money and there’s nothing to back it up.”
While the implementation of guaranteed basic income can be costly, proponents are hoping to show that the pilot program will prove beneficial for the local community.