Palm Springs Makes a Bad Idea Even Worse

Remember Andrew Yang? In 2020, the failed Democratic presidential candidate made universal basic income (UBI) the foundation of his platform. Called the “Freedom Dividend,” it would have paid every American adult $1,000 a month, or $12,000 a year in perpetuity, regardless of employment status or income.

Even hardcore Democrats rejected the idea. In the New Hampshire primaries, Yang finished eighth with 2.8 percent of the vote. In the Iowa caucuses, he finished 10th with only 1 percent.

But like most bad ideas, UBI didn’t suffer an instant death. It sank beneath the radar to the city and county level, where it popped up on a website called Mayors for Guaranteed Basic Income, which was signed by the mayors of 62 American cities from Providence to Palm Springs.

Many of these cities have pilot programs in place, with a limited number of recipients. One pilot program in Los Angeles pays nearly 3,000 people $1,000 a month, but only for one year.  Chicago created 5,000 dependents, but will only pay $500 a month, supposedly starting sometime this year. This raises a number of ethical questions, such as: What bureaucrat decides who gets these funds? And on what basis do they make the decision?

But on March 24, the Palm Springs (California) City Council answered those questions by voting unanimously to support the most drastically undemocratic UBI proposal yet: a pilot basic income program that would give between $600 and $900 a month to 20 transgender and nonbinary Palm Springs residents. 

A request for $900,000 was made by DAP Health and Queer Works, a Coachella Valley-based organization whose goal is to eliminate disparities faced by transgender and nonbinary people. Queer Works CEO Jacob Rostovsky told the council it would cost about $1.8 million to provide for these chosen few. If my calculator is right, that’s $90,000 a head for 20 people.

He further explained that California has set aside $35 million in grants for pilot UBI programs, and that Palm Springs would likely need to match the funds provided by the state to fund the full $1.8 million for this social science project.

Just to keep the program objective—like a clinical trial where half the subjects receive placebos—the pilot would include another 20 transgender and non-binary people who would not receive the money and services, but would serve as a control group to determine if the program benefitted the lucky recipients. 

Councilmember Christy Holstege was all-in for the $900,000 donation. She said it would let Palm Springs “participate in a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art pilot program which will help get quantitative and qualitative data to show how this [guaranteed income] impacts futures and lives.”

Other council members were more reserved. Councilmembers Grace Garner, Geoff Kors, and Dennis Woods all said that they wanted to help the organizations get started with their UBI program—after all, they are one of the 62 cities that signed on to Mayors for Guaranteed Basic Income—but they weren’t comfortable to committing to the full $900,000 requested. 

In the end, the council voted unanimously to pay DAP and Queer Works staff $200,000 to put together an application for a share of the state’s $35 million UBI fund. 

You may see that as a very expensive application. I see it as one step too many down a very slippery slope.

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