Pilot program to provide free rent to low-income residents could cost the state $251 million

Jan 31, 2024, 7:59 AM | Updated: 10:19 am

Tacoma Measure 1...

Tacoma building with apartments available to lease. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Washington Democrats are proposing the Evergreen Basic Income Pilot Program, aiming to provide recurring cash payments for two years to 7,500 low-income state residents with no strings attached.

The monthly payments would be equivalent to the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the participant’s location, currently varying from $958 in Stevens County to $2,645 in King County.

It is estimated that the two-year pilot program will cost the state $251,286,000.

Senate Bill 6196 outlines eligibility criteria, including being a low-income adult or emancipated minor, a Washington resident, and experiencing a major life event associated with economic instability, such as homelessness, pregnancy, or exiting foster care. (The bill can be viewed here.)

Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent, the lead sponsor of the bill, emphasized the common desire all residents share.

“We want a roof over our head. We want food in our pantry, and we want our family to be safe and healthy. But, as we know, that is not the reality for many people in Washington state,” Kauffman told the Senate Human Services Committee Tuesday.

This proposal marks the third legislative session considering a basic income program.

If approved, Washington would be the first state to experiment with a guaranteed income program statewide. Similar pilot programs have been tried in the cities of Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Testimony against the basic income bill

Theresa Schrempp testified against the bill, stating, “The fact that 7,500 individuals will be enrolled in this program demonstrates that it’s not really a pilot program, but a significant move towards the socialist model and the nanny state.”

Advocates argue that the initial cost of providing universal basic income would be outweighed by long-term benefits, reducing administrative costs and improving overall well-being.

Cherish Cronmiller, representing the Olympic Community Action Programs, highlighted the positive outcomes observed during an 18-month basic income pilot program, where $500 monthly payments were distributed to 20 households.

“As somebody who’s administered social services for 15 years, we spend more money administering services and deciding whether or not people qualify for money than if we just handed it out,” she said.

“Guaranteed income does that with no strings attached low overhead costs. I’ve seen it firsthand,” Cronmiller added.

Mary Long, representing the Conservative Ladies of Washington, testified about draining taxpayer resources and unfairness in allowing non-citizens, including undocumented residents, to apply.

“This is going to cost a great deal of taxpayer money, taxpayers who are having trouble just putting food on their own tables,” Long said.

Research from programs like Growing Resilience in Tacoma and other cities across the U.S. suggests that guaranteed monthly payments can help lift people out of poverty and homelessness without negatively affecting motivation to work or leading to increased spending on harmful goods.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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Pilot program to provide free rent to low-income residents could cost the state $251 million