Results from a two-year experiment examining the impact of guaranteed income on residents of Stockton, California are in — but the results were complicated by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers say.

The program, known as the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, or SEED, has paid monthly payments of $500 to 131 people since February 2019. There was also a control group of 200 Stockton residents.

More than a year later, the Covid-19 pandemic began, launching a domino effect of lifestyle changes as more people stayed at home under lockdown orders.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Tennessee. Amy Castro and Dr. Stasia West, found that those who received the money would be more likely to be able to manage a $400 emergency, according to the analysis, published Monday in the Journal of Urban Health.

The extra $500 per month also “allows discretion about Covid and what conditions workers will tolerate for poorly compensated work,” the study said.

But the virus wasn’t the only public health emergency facing Stockton residents: Researchers also examined the impact of the record wildfires that burned through Northern California in 2020.

According to Castro, the wildfires and epidemics have left people “trapped” in “competing public health orders”, especially for those with pre-existing health conditions. For example, people were supposed to interact with the outdoors because of the coronavirus, but the wildfires drove them back inside.

“$500 buffers against some of this stress by giving people the ability to stockpile household items and gather what they need during the Covid and wildfire season,” Castro wrote in an email to CNN.

One survey respondent described how he chose to use food delivery apps because wildfire smoke made it difficult to breathe outside, but because of Covid-19, going to the grocery store seemed risky.

“In this case, her pre-existing health condition was forcing her to stress her need for air as opposed to her need for food,” meaning “she often resorted to expensive food delivery applications that further reduced her finances,” the researchers wrote.

Overall, the researchers said, their findings show that “guaranteed income, under ideal economic and health conditions, calms income volatility and alleviates financial emotional and psychological distress” and can have a “profound” impact on public health.

“We could never have predicted that the concept of unconditional cash has spread across the country and on both sides of the political aisle with serious government investment in the concept of unconditional cash. When we launched SEED we assumed it would take several years for anyone to replicate it. Instead, the pandemic led to an explosion in guaranteed income programs across the United States, including in some unexpected places like New York, Iowa, Ohio, South Carolina and Florida,” West wrote in an email to CNN.

Guaranteed Income pilot programs underway in Chicago and Cook County, Illinois; and Los Angeles.

Although the analysis was limited because people left work for various reasons during the pandemic and the data was limited to people in Stockton, making it difficult to generalize, the researchers found that overall, the extra $500 per month did not discourage people. work

“The effect of guaranteed income on work was not statistically detectable, meaning that members of both groups maintained their work obligations at equal rates,” West explained.

Guaranteed income, also known as universal basic income, means paying everyone, regardless of how much they earn, so they have more freedom to move between jobs, train for new positions, provide care or engage in creative work. Concerns that automation and the climate crisis will lead to mass displacement of workers have fueled interest in the idea in recent years.

The study also showed that “there is a period of time when someone accepts cash issues unconditionally,” Castro said.

“We didn’t start seeing changes in people’s health and well-being until 6 months after receiving consistent cash. Recurring cash over time affects people differently than short-term cash infusions [Earned Income Tax Credit]. This sends a clear signal to the federal government when we think about policies like the child tax credit,” he wrote.

A 2020 Pew Research Center poll found that about 54% of American adults oppose the idea of ​​the federal government providing a guaranteed income of about $1,000 per month to all adults, regardless of their work status. More Democrats than Republicans support the idea.

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