This summer, a coalition of U.S. mayors joined forces to win support for the idea of providing guaranteed income for struggling Americans. St. Paul’s mayor is part of the group calling for these direct payments that would come with no strings attached.
Nearly a dozen mayors from across the country, including St. Paul’s Melvin Carter, have pledged to seek such efforts, saying the pandemic crisis has only widened the gap for certain people and their ability to survive. Carter said gainful employment will be harder to come by as the nation tries to overcome the crisis, making it difficult for some to participate in a consumer-driven economy.
“Over the long term, we’ll run out of consumers if we don’t figure out some type of way to ensure that community members can afford to live with dignity in our communities across the country,” Carter said.
The movement stemmed from a payment program initiated by Stockton, California, in 2019. Carter said as a trial project, he would like to identify 135 low-income families in St. Paul to receive $500 a month over 18 months.
Opponents of the movement question the affordability of these plans, while noting it doesn’t provide longstanding solutions.
Carter said he doesn’t envision this being a long-term approach for the city. He hopes it will inspire a more broad approach at the state and federal level.
He said it also can complement existing assistance programs that don’t work for everybody who is struggling.
“When we create these paternalistic, super-prescriptive programs, we spend a lot of money on things that aren’t providing the best resources, that aren’t providing the best help to those families,” he said.
Carter said families selected for payments in St. Paul would be connected to the city’s college saving’s account initiative. But it’s unclear yet if any other specific components to the cash payment plan have materialized, and whether they would win enough support from the city council.