Stockton’s mayor doesn’t like Andrew Yang’s universal basic income plan. Here’s why

Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs announced last year that some residents in his city will receive $500 a month, no strings attached, sparking a flurry of national attention for a closely watched program.

Six months into the universal basic income experiment — the first of its kind led by a U.S. city — Tubbs is touting some successes. A lot of the money the 125 recipients have secured is going toward food, clothing and economic opportunities.

With the concept of universal basic income gaining national attention through a “Freedom Dividend” proposed by 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, the 29-year-old Tubbs is eager to prove the pilot’s merits.

But the man behind the city’s innovative proposal to address poverty warns Yang’s idea is not the best solution.

“I support the conversation we’re having about basic income, but I don’t support any proposal that would gut the social safety net,” Tubbs said.

More specifically, Tubbs opposes Yang’s approach to giving every American $1,000 a month. Under Yang’s plan, food stamp recipients and others receiving need-based assistance from the federal government would be forced to choose between their existing benefits and the $1,000 monthly payment.

Yang’s campaign declined to comment on Tubbs’ concerns, though it noted that people will still get to keep their Social Security retirement benefits while receiving the so-called “Freedom Dividend.” Disabled veterans will also be free to enjoy both the $1,000 and their current benefits.

During a March appearance on The Sacramento Bee’s “California Nation” podcast, Yang said his plan would be partially funded through people choosing to no longer receive money through federal assistance programs.

“What happens is if you guarantee every American adult $1,000 a month and you say, ‘Hey, here’s the new Freedom Dividend, but if you take the freedom dividend, you’re foregoing benefits from various programs,’ then people will look at it and say, ‘I like my program because I’m getting my $1,400 or whatever it is,’” Yang said. “Then, they don’t take the Freedom Dividend and it doesn’t cost $3 trillion (per year). ... It ends up reducing the headline cost to closer to $1.8 trillion because we’re spending so much money on income support programs.”

Tubbs thinks Yang’s idea would disproportionately hurt poor people.

“For me, I don’t see how folks who are struggling enough to need assistance are better off by giving them $1,000 and taking the assistance they have,” Tubbs said.

The Stockton mayor noted he prefers an idea from one of Yang’s 2020 opponents, California Sen. Kamala Harris.

He cited Harris’ Livable Incomes for Families Today (LIFT) Act, which would give up to $6,000 to families earning less than $100,000 annually through a refundable tax credit.

Tubbs has not yet endorsed a candidate in the 2020 presidential election, though he appears inclined to support Harris. Yang is not among the candidates he is considering endorsing.

“I haven’t released an endorsement yet, but Senator Harris is a mentor and dear friend,” Tubbs said, noting he plans to announce his public support for a candidate “very soon.”

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.