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Stockton Mayor Touts Experimental Program That Pays Families $500 a Month

STOCKTON (CBS/AP) -- Stockton plans to give several dozen families $500 a month for a year as part of a program to study the economic and social impacts of giving people a basic income.

The so-called "SEED" project will give a small group of low-income residents a modest, no-strings-attached monthly income. Funded by a million-dollar private grant from a tech group called the Economic Security Project -- co-led by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes -- SEED creates a real-world research model of what's known as universal basic income.

The yearlong program will track what residents do with the money and how having a universal basic income affects their self-esteem and identity.

Stockton mayor Michael Tubbs is coordinating the effort in his city of 300,000 people where 1 in 4 residents lives below the poverty line.

"They were looking for a city to pilot what would a 'basic income' look like? And what could that do for people's lives," the mayor said.

Residents in the Central Valley city east of San Francisco are coping with wage stagnation, rising housing prices, loss of jobs and the looming threat of automation, Tubbs said.

"I think Stockton is absolutely ground zero for a lot of the issues we are facing as a nation," he said.

Stockton racked up millions in debt on development projects in the past, which got the city into trouble, Tubbs said. The city declared bankruptcy in 2012.

"We've overspent on things like arenas and marinas and things of that sort to try to lure in tourism and dollars that way," he said.

Tubbs said the basic income experiment will show that Stockton's best bet is to invest in its own people.

"Ideally, I would like to serve 100 families for 18 months at $500 a month," Tubbs told KPIX 5.

Dorian Warren, who co-chairs the Economic Security Project, said the goal in Stockton is to gather data on how having a basic income impacts people.

"What does it mean to say, 'Here is unconditional guaranteed income just based on you being a human being?'" Warren asked.

In some politically liberal corners of the country, including Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area, the idea of distributing a guaranteed income has begun to gain support.

In Oakland, Y Combinator, a startup incubator, is giving about $1,500 a month to a handful of people selected randomly and will soon expand distribution to 100 recipients. It eventually plans to provide $1,000 monthly to 1,000 people and study how recipients spend their time and how their financial health and well-being are affected.

Hector Lara, Executive Director of the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition, has high hopes for the project.

"We really hope that through this implementation we can learn from that and that may shape future policy, it may shape future ideas around where this funding would come from," Lara said.

No public money is going into the project but the very concept of a universal basic income is unpopular with some people who see it as a new manifestation of the oft-maligned "welfare state." Mayor Tubbs believes something has to change because, he says, many of the people he represents simply aren't making it.

"My premise is the status quo is unacceptable and I didn't get elected to be liked -- I got elected to do things that actually make a difference," Mayor Tubbs said.

© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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