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Des Moines City Council approves basic income pilot program

Participants will receive monthly $500 payments for two years.

DES MOINES, Iowa — 110 people in the metro will receive $500 a month under a basic income pilot program approved by Des Moines City Council Monday night. The focus will be on individuals with low incomes.

The program is headed by the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, with the Harkin Institute and Des Moines University assisting with research.

The Des Moines City Council approved $500,000 in funding for the project, using money coming from the American Rescue Plan Act. Researchers will be examining how the participants actually spend the money.

"Are people using their additional income primarily for food or towards their housing, towards their childcare expenses? So all kinds of measures to understand the impacts of where the needs are," said Mid-Iowa Health Foundation President & CEO Dr. Nalo Johnson.

The exact income threshold to determine who can participate has not been finalized, but they will all have at least one dependent in their household. Some might be critical of simply giving out money with no other requirements, but Johnson said it could actually be more beneficial that way. 

"Having this ability to spend the money where the need is, is actually a more effective strategy to help making low-income residents or supporting low-income residents and meeting their essential needs," she said.

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Des Moines is not the first city to attempt something like this: more than 40 cities across the country are trying it out. Back in 2019, a similar program out of Stockton, Calif. gave 125 residents monthly payments of $500. 

Researchers found that depression and anxiety among participants fell significantly. They also learned that more of the people who received payments were actually working full-time after one year of the program, compared to when it started. 

"That's huge. People had the ability to take time off work to go to an interview for a better job. Those are things that people don't really consider," Johnson added.

The program should begin recruiting people from Polk, Dallas, and Warren County to join the pilot in November, and the first payments are planned to go out in February. Participants will receive those monthly payments for two years, with the project's findings hopefully published about a year after the final payment.

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