Protecting Benefits in Guaranteed Income Pilots: Lessons Learned from the Abundant Birth Project

report coverThis brief offers lessons learned about how to protect recipient benefits, particularly in California, through the lens of the Abundant Birth Project (ABP), a pilot program aimed at reducing birth health disparities and improving birth outcomes for Black and Pacific Islander pregnant women in San Francisco by providing $1,000 per month for six months during pregnancy and six months post-partum.

Interest in guaranteed income programs providing continuous, unconditional cash transfers is surging, with more than 30 pilot programs in development or underway in the U.S. alone. Guaranteed income is a policy response to systemic poverty and rising inequality, particularly during a pandemic that has brutally exacerbated these problems, and differs from traditional safety net policies by providing a steady and predictable flow of cash that recipients can use without limitations. The amount of money provided by current U.S. pilots is not sufficient for participants to live on, so many low-income recipients will continue to depend on public benefit programs to help bridge the gap.

Safety net programs are effective in reducing poverty, especially deep poverty, and many benefit recipients rely on these programs to survive. However, the majority of these programs have restrictive, complex, and shifting eligibility requirements around household income and assets. People relying on benefits face a well-documented “benefits cliff” problem, where even small increases in earnings or assets can result in sudden and often unexpected reductions, or even total losses, in public benefits.