Guaranteed Basic Income Program Coming for Low-Income Residents

Guaranteed Basic Income Program Coming for Low-Income Residents

In a continued agenda item at its July 5 meeting, the City Council approved an agreement with Usio Inc. to serve as the financial partner for Rise Up Alameda, the city’s Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) Pilot Program. The program will pave the way for a select number of Alameda residents to receive a major financial benefit.

The total approved amount of the contract is $3,602,987.50, which includes $2,987.50 for disbursement services and $3,600,000 of passthrough funds to be used for direct payments to program participants. The funds come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021.

The City Council has been discussing implementing the GBI pilot program for the better part of a year. Several other cities such as Chicago, Ill., Compton, and Phoenix, Ari. have implemented similar programs.

On May 17, 2022, the City Council first approved the pilot program, which will give 150 of 9,000 low-income households $1,000 per month over a two-year span. In November 2022, councilmembers approved a $600,000 contract with Operation Dignity to implement the program and a $309,940 contract with Abt Associates to serve as its research partner. Operation Dignity will also conduct voluntary financial counseling for program participants and the program control group (members of research group but not receiving GBI disbursements). Also, the research partner will conduct a 12-month survey at the end of its first year and then a 24-month survey in Fall 2025 to assess the program at its completion.

After approving the implementing and research partners, the city went to work finding a financial partner. They received six proposals in August 2022 before deciding on Usio. According to presenter Walker Toma, a City of Alameda development manager, Usio’s main job will be to facilitate payments to program participants via the Akimbo prepaid Mastercard and handle any operational and customer service activities. The fund movement will be fully transparent as the city will have full access to the Usio site where payments are made.

Toma stated that GBI has multiple benefits for recipients as it allows them to have more economic stability, increased self-determination, enhanced physical and mental well-being and fewer barriers to employment. Rise Up Alameda also is expected to economically benefit local businesses and the overall Alameda community.

Following his presentation, Toma answered multiple clarifying questions from councilmembers, confirming that program participants will still get the monthly funds should they move out of the city, and that someone in the same household would likely get the benefits if the participant dies.
Asked why the city should spend ARPA money on the GBI pilot, City Manager Jennifer Ott said, “This is a great anti-poverty program that helps support our residents. There is potential with our data and research to support something more nationalized. The data we get about what kind of life changes people made from this type of support would probably help our housing and homelessness programs. We think the data will have far-reaching impacts and benefits to our other social service programs.”

Most of the public speakers expressed support for GBI with two voicing their disapproval. Resident Ashley Gregory expressed support for the program saying, “I believe that investing in people reflects a compassionate and courageous paradigm that moves our society away from fear, punishment and shame and toward a world where we know the truth of everyone’s innate worthiness.”

Most of the opposition to the program is based on its limited scope, helping a select few of the many who would qualify. However, Jim Strehlow expressed disdain for the whole program, noting concern that participants could spend the money on drugs and/or become targets of extortion or violence.

After the public comment, the City Council moved towards a vote. The agreement for Usio Inc. to serve as financial partner passed, 3-2, with Councilmembers Trish Herrera-Spencer and Tony Daysog dissenting.

With the financial partner secured, the next step for the program is to secure income exemptions for CalWorks, CalFresh, and housing benefits. Then, according to City of Alameda Public Information Officer Sarah Henry, the application will open sometime in the late summer/early fall. Henry said the city is working with a network of community-based organizations to notify residents about the program and plans to get the word out through a variety of channels.

Operation Dignity, the city’s administrative partner, has been scheduling information workshops throughout the city and created a website,, to help disseminate information. In addition, the city will issue a press release, share information on social media, and hope the media will highlight the application launch.”

Finally, the city will report the total number of applicants received on its website and, at a date to be determined, the 150 recipients will be chosen randomly rather than through a public lottery to protect applicants’ identities.

Ben Wiley is an Alameda Sun contributor.