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Madison tests guaranteed income to families in need - no strings attached

City of Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway announced the launch of a new pilot program Tuesday aimed at providing a monthly cash income to those in need.
Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 9:30 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 21, 2022 at 6:24 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - City of Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway announced the launch of a new pilot program Tuesday aimed at providing a monthly cash income to those in need.

The Madison Forward Fund is a year-long guaranteed income program for Madison residents. The experimental project would provide a cash payment of $500 to 155 households for one year. There are no strings attached, according to the program’s website, and no work requirements.

The application went live Tuesday and will remain open until July 3.

The program is meant to be a supplement, rather than a replacement, of funds needed to buy basic essentials like food, transportation, utilities and rent.

“Low-income families have weathered the storm of the pandemic with some extra help from the federal government,” the mayor said. “But many of those pandemic programs have now come to an end just as families are getting pummeled by high inflation and a shortage of child care.”

To be eligible, applicants must be Madison residents 18 years or older. They must also have at least one child (age 17 or under) who lives with them, and the household income must be less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Line.

Madison Common Council Vice President Jael Currie and Dr. Katherine Magnuson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty also gave remarks at the event about how this program can help the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“Unrestricted guaranteed income strays from the historic approach of dictating how, when and what terms individuals can build their lives. This is a key component of empowerment,” Currie said.

The city’s role stems from Rhodes-Conway’s participation in the Mayors for Guaranteed Income initiative, which includes the Madison mayor and dozens of other leaders of their cities. The organization is helping fund Madison’s program, as is a donation from former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

UW-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty has partnered with the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania to collect data about guaranteed income programs. According to UW-Madison, the information learned will help make adjustments to current programs and plan future ones.

Jonah Ralston, an associate professor at UW-Whitewater unaffiliated with the trial, said he was hopeful of the Madison program’s outcomes.

“I think it would be hard for a program like this to fail, honestly,” he said, “because many of these studies that we know about in terms of giving lower income people money shows that that’s the best way to stimulate an economy and that they will, in fact, spend it wisely.”

He pointed to a similar trial out of Stockton, California, that started in 2019.

“The outcome that people had feared, that maybe people would stop working, or work less, that was actually not the case,” Ralston said. “Their job prospects went up, they actually increased their full-time employment. Stress levels went down. Overall wellbeing went up.”

For now, the mayor said the Madison Forward Fund will last a year and did not announce any concrete plans for the future. She said a main outcome is to learn and make the case for this kind of program nationally.

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