WA lawmaker looks to break ground on universal basic income

Feb 3, 2020, 11:08 AM | Updated: Feb 4, 2020, 10:55 am

Universal basic income, Joe Nguyen King County Executive...

Democratic Sen. Joe Nguyen. (Office of Joe Nguyen)

(Office of Joe Nguyen)

A lawmaker in Olympia has a proposal on the table that would act as an entryway into universal basic income in Washington state.

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Democratic Sen. Joe Nguyen’s bill would provide $500 a month for two years to qualifying people already using state welfare programs. During a pilot period, it would be limited to 500 randomly selected people from that pool of eligible applicants.

The goal: Provide a testing ground for universal basic income.

“For two years, [let’s] study how this would impact individuals in Washington state who already rely on services that they qualify for, and then see if through this experience, they’re able to become more stable, and have a higher rate of moving off social services,” Nguyen told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

The program would use existing infrastructure and mechanisms from welfare programs already in use in Washington, to avoid issues with cost and procedures that often come with establishing more bureaucracy.

After that two year pilot period, the state would then collect relevant data on how people spend their money, as well as tracking their physical and mental health, and whether there are any changes in their financial status.

Beyond testing the viability of universal basic income on a small scale, Sen. Nguyen is also looking to bridge the gap between relatively stagnant wages and low unemployment rates.

“We’re seeing record low unemployment of Washington state,” he pointed out. “Yet we still have huge problems when it comes to homelessness and affordability, because wages haven’t kept up.”

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“These people are still working, and they’re trying to get by doing the right thing, but because costs aren’t really manageable with the wages that we have now, by doing this, I think you can improve people’s lives,” he added.

Nguyen doesn’t expect his bill to be passed during a short early-2020 legislative session. That being so, his larger goal is to start a dialogue that begins to tackle the issue of wealth inequality in Washington state.

“One of the things the government is known for is trying to solve yesterday’s problems tomorrow,” he pointed out. “I’m trying to figure out what problems are going to exist in the future and address those now, so we don’t have the growing pains that we have.”

Listen to the Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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WA lawmaker looks to break ground on universal basic income