Guaranteed basic income could substantially improve economic security in the Pacific Northwest

In recent years, there’s been an increasing amount of discussion about bringing guaranteed basic income (GBI) to jurisdictions across the United States.

GBI is a proven tool for improving social, economic, and health inequities; it entails providing periodic cash payments to people, like the economic assistance payments provided to millions of Americans during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The benefits of GBI for recipients are numerous: improved health for recipients and their children; increased income, housing, and food security; increased employment; and reduced unplanned pregnancies, firearm violence, and addiction.

King County Councilmember Zahilay, who initiated King County’s GBI pilot program, attests that  “there is not a single thing I’ve worked on since being on the Council that has had a more profound individual level impact than the Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program.”

The benefits of GBI also go beyond the individual and alleviate the social costs of poverty. GBI programs are cost effective, especially compared to the expensive and ineffective current criminal legal system. The cost of one month in King County jail is equivalent to one year of GBI for an individual. The hiring bonuses of two Seattle Police Department officers could pay for one year of GBI for three individuals. We know that GBI helps people meet their basic needs and when those needs are met, much of the justification for policing and punishment–and the large price tag that goes with these systems–becomes obsolete.

Poverty is a policy choice. Seattle must adopt GBI in the 2024 city budget to address the urgent, overlapping crises of homelessness, overdose, and housing.

A GBI program should prioritize communities who have been impacted by criminalization and over-policing, including but not limited to:

  • Black, Native, and indigenous gender diverse people; cisgender communities of color;
  • anyone who has experienced a sweep, police contact, court contact, or incarceration of any form (including their families);
  • people experiencing homelessness;
  • people with disabilities;
  • people experiencing gender-based violence;
  • LGBTQ+ people;
  • people experiencing poverty;
  • people who rely on alternative economies to survive;
  • and people impacted by the family policing system (foster care).

Study after study shows that GBI changes people’s lives and it’s feasible in Washington State. Whether it helps a family with a newborn baby afford formula and diapers, helps a single mom make ends meet, gives more income stability to those employed in the gig economy, or helps grandparents buy their grandkids gifts for the first time, the individual impacts of GBI programs cannot be overstated.

As Councilmember Zahilay has emphatically stated, “GBI is the future.”