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Backers offer details on no-strings income plan


HUDSON—Questions about income verification, existing benefits and results evaluation arose frequently at an online information session about the HudsonUP income program hosted by the Hudson Area Library August 20.

HudsonUP plans to give 25 Hudson residents $500 a month for five years, as a pilot program to test former presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposal. Recipients will not have to pay taxes on the $500 itself, and they will be able to use it however they want, said Susan Danziger and Albert Wenger, cofounders of the Spark of Hudson, which will contribute toward the payments. The first checks should come in October or November, said Mr. Wenger. He and Ms. Danziger were the main speakers at the session.

The session began with Ms. Danziger and Mr. Wenger explaining the selection process for Hudson’s program and giving the background of universal income ideas. Then they answered questions submitted by viewers.

To be eligible for HudsonUP’s monthly $500, one must live in the City of Hudson, be at least 18 years old, and earn less than $35,153 a year, which is the medium income of Hudson residents. There is no maximum age or minimum income requirement. The application does not ask for an applicant’s age.

To have a chance at getting the monthly $500, one must fill out a short online application by September 20. Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood and the Hudson Area Library said they would help people who do not have computers to access the application. Right now the application has an English and a Spanish form. A Bengali form is under preparation.

Shortly after September 20 researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Tennessee, and the City University of New York will draw the lucky 25 from the pool of eligible applicants. The drawing will be weighted to favor those with characteristics more similar to those of people who data analysis has found to be “less successful in life.”

The analysis studied the Opportunity Atlas Data Set, which recorded information about 20 million individuals as they proceeded through childhood, youth and adulthood. The analysis determined that the characteristics most likely to predict how “successful” someone is in life are where a person lives, and the race, gender and income of the person.

“Wouldn’t a full test be if everyone gets it?” asked a viewer. “Otherwise, we have winners and non- winners.”

“We wish it could be for everybody, but funds are limited,” said Ms. Danziger. Mr. Wenger added that the extra income will make “a huge difference in the lives of people who do get it.” Furthermore, people will talk about the experiment, and that will make other people aware of UBI.

Recipients can be anonymous, even from each other if they so choose, Mr. Wenger said.

“For now, we have not built in an inflation factor,” and the payment will stay $500 a month all five years.

Ms. Danziger hopes that next year another 25 people will be selected to receive $500 a month for five years after that.

‘Some people ask: Isn’t this UBI communist?’

Albert Wenger, cofounder

Spark of Hudson

One recurrent viewer question was how can we be sure that the income someone reports on the application is really that person’s income. “Will you request IRS information?”

No, replied Mr. Wenger. “We trust that most people will be honest.” In addition, he called attention to a statement the application requires the applicant to sign, promising “that the information provided above is accurate to the best of my knowledge.”

But, someone asked, “Are you concerned that relying on self-reporting will hurt the integrity of a statistical test?”

“We’re looking to do not a statistical test but a story telling,” said Mr. Wenger.

Some viewers asked whether the extra $500 a month would make people lose housing subsidies and other benefits they may be receiving.

“We’re working with the County Commissioner of Social Services Robert Gibson to make sure people keep at least local benefits,” said Ms. Danziger. “We can’t make a blanket guarantee, but we will work with people” to make sure the net effect of the extra income will make them better off. Ms. Danziger advised against letting fear of losing existing benefits stop one from applying to be considered for the monthly $500.

Several questions related to how the experiment would be evaluated. Mr. Wenger answered that success would be measured “by the impact on people’s lives” and the strengthening of the community. Researchers will track the income recipients’ journeys, and measure the effect on the community, he and Ms. Danziger said.

“How will we know the impact of UBI versus a random sample of people with the same characteristics and no UBI?” asked a viewer.

Mr. Wenger answered that in an experiment going on in Kenya “in some villages everybody gets a UBI, and in other villages, nobody gets it.”

“It would be interesting to measure cortisol and other indicators of stress before and after” getting UBI, a viewer suggested.

Other cities are testing different payment amounts for different durations to various numbers of people. The money for HudsonUP’s payments will come from the Spark of Hudson, Humanity Forward, and the basketball player J.J. Redick. Ms. Danziger characterized the Spark of Hudson as a learning and training center, which they plan to launch “about a year from now.” Humanity Forward is Mr. Yang’s organization for advancing his ideals.

Ms. Danziger called Hudson a good city for a UBI pilot program, because it is a “microcosm of the US. It has a huge disparity of income and a mix of racial and ethnic identities.”

Mr. Wenger said that people have suggested or supported universal basic payment programs under various names for centuries. These people included Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, economist Milton Friedman and President Richard Nixon.

Mr. Wenger continued: “Some people ask: ‘Isn’t this UBI communist?’ But it has nothing to do with who owns the means of production. The UBI makes markets work better. It allows entrepreneurship—such as opening a corner store or daycare center. It makes the labor market better, because people can walk away from jobs. The anti-welfare view is that humans are naturally lazy, but the UBI view is that people are naturally curious and seek challenges.”

“Economic theory makes no distinction between needs, such as rent—and wants, such as a fourth pair of sneakers,” Mr. Wenger continued.

“Haven’t Great Society programs eliminated poverty, isn’t this just tinkering at the edges?” asked a viewer.

“They haven’t eliminated poverty,” said Mr. Wenger.

“Will the community have a chance to participate in the program?” asked another.

“Yes,” said Ms. Danziger. In fact, they want community participation.

“Thank-you,” a viewer commented. “This has been educational. And you could have come anywhere, but you came to Hudson.”

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