FAQ re: OFE and Basic Income

Q: What is Universal Basic Income?

A universal basic income (UBI) is a form of social security provided periodically and unconditionally. It is universal, so available to all without any means test, and a cash payment, so individuals can choose how to allocate and invest it to meet their individual and household needs. It provides everyone with a guaranteed income floor. Here is more information on UBI.  And another good overview article. As the National League of Cities’ report last year highlights, a non-universal basic income targeted to vulnerable people is one policy options cities could be looking at.

Q; What is the Office of Financial Empowerment's interest in basic income?

The San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment is committed to increasing economic security and reducing intergeneration poverty. To this end, we launched Kindergarten to College, the first and largest universal child savings program of its kind in the country now serving 27,000 public school children; Smart Money Coaching, which delivers financial coaching to low-income people at 27 sites across San Francisco; Summer Jobs Connect, which equips youth with a bank account, financial education, and strategies to save during summer employment; Bank On, which helps low-income residents access safe accounts at responsible banks and credit unions; and policy efforts to fight predatory financial practices and help families build assets.

The OFE’s interest in basic Income is a direct extension of its broader concern for economic security and intergenerational poverty. Given the powerful evidence for cash transfers, both domestically and internationally, and the long history of basic income as a potentially "key building block" of a fairer economy (French economist Thomas Piketty), the OFE recently began exploring whether a basic income demonstration in San Francisco could add evidence to policy debates about reducing income inequality and increasing financial security.

Q; What action is the OFE taking on UBI?

While pilots are starting to take place internationally and even domestically, more evidence is needed to understand the efficacy of a universal basic income in the United States. To advance the dialogue and evidence around basic income in the United States the OFE is doing the following:

  • Actively participating in the Economic Security Project
  • Planning a convening of UBI experimenters in Fall 2017
  • Seeking funding to conduct a pilot in San Francisco and potentially with other cities across the country. 
  • Designing basic income demonstrations to pilot test

The OFE has engaged in thoughtful conversations inside and outside of city government to understand what such a demonstration could look like and what type of new research would be most helpful to inform policy. The OFE is not embarking on any proposal at this moment, but continues to explore when and how to launch a demonstration.  In 2016, the OFE joined a three-city consortium to submit a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation for $100 million to fund the first large-scale basic income demonstration in the United States. While unsuccessful in this funding effort, the OFE has continued to explore smaller research demonstrations of a basic income at a cost of between $5 million and $30 million. 


updated 1.26.17