“We don’t turn anyone away” was what we were told on our first day at Community Lunch on Capitol Hill. Everyone is welcome no matter their circumstance. All of their guests have different lives and past experiences. The one thing they all have in common – not enough food or money to purchase it. A basic income could fix this issue.
In Seattle in 2017, a family of four making less than $72,000 per year is considered low-income. Someone making $15 an hour, the city’s minimum wage, is considered very low-income. How might someone working a minimum wage job support themselves in Seattle? One solution is implementing a basic income; a government cash payment to residents to spend at their will. There are no limits or requirements on what the money can be spent on but is treated like an income.
Andrew Yang brought the idea of a basic income to the American political stage during the 2020 presidential election. By keeping it in the forefront of his campaign, Yang sparked conversations across the country. In Senate Bill 6625, State Senator Joe Nguyen, who represents West Seattle, proposed a trial run of a basic income program that would provide 500 residents across the state $500 a month for 18 months. The basic income program would not replace other income-based programs like social security – Nguyen claims that “The point is that this shouldn’t take away from the different services they have — it should augment those services.”
While volunteering with Community Lunch on Capitol Hill, we interacted with those facing poverty and food insecurity. People like this are exactly who a basic income program would benefit most. Though the American Dream promises wealth to anyone who works hard enough, many people living in high cost cities are one unexpected event away from being in the same position as the guests at Community Lunch. There are countless individuals struggling to make ends meet and an extra $500 a month could make their lives a little simpler.
Unfortunately, SB 6625 was killed in the senate committee, but it has sparked an important conversation in Washington state. The goal now is to keep the conversation going. How can we do that? We can start by staying informed about basic income programs locally and nationwide and voicing our support for them. It is vital that your legislators know that you would support a basic income program. Speak up and you can help the people of Washington state live better lives.
Lauren Kobayashi, Joely Smith, Kevin Tinker, and Sam Wilson—Seattle University ’20