An Iowa basic income pilot program seems to be working, but Republicans want to kill it

By Ty Rushing

March 5, 2024

How much better would your life be with an extra $500 a month—especially $500 a month with no strings attached? 

That’s what people behind the UpLift – The Central Iowa Basic Income program are trying to determine, but the study might be the first and last of its kind in Iowa if Republican lawmakers have their say.

Iowa House Republicans passed HF 2319 on Monday, a bill that prohibits city or county governments from participating in guaranteed income programs unless it is supported by state law. This bill was created specifically to target UpLift, which receives no state funds.

“I would say that I hope this body will enact programs that foster independence and not dependence and that will allow people to lift themselves up and experience the dignity of work and build their own prosperity,” said Rep. Steve Holt (R-Denison), who introduced the legislation and successfully managed its passage on the floor.

While the bill still has to go through the Iowa Senate and then be signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds to become law, UpLift Project Coordinator Ashely Ezzio said the actions of the Iowa Legislature won’t disrupt its study.

“UpLift is supported by a number of partners and anticipates no changes to the study,” she said. “Participants will continue to receive their monthly payments and the pilot will continue to collect local data for Central Iowa by investigating the impacts on participants’ physical and mental health, housing conditions, employment status, financial well-being, food security, school readiness of their children, and their engagement with work.”

UpLift was officially launched in February 2023 and the program provides 110 participants from Dallas, Polk, and Warren counties with $500 a month with no restrictions or guidelines on how they used the funds. The program is funded via a public-private partnership and supporters include Bank of America, Polk County, Principal, Wells Fargo, and the cities of Des Moines, Windsor Heights, and Urbandale.

The average participant is age 37, 85% of them are female, and 76% of them receive public assistance of some sort. The average participating household has an average annual income of $24,542 and has four people, two of whom are children.

And contrary to Rep. Holt’s belief that programs like this “murder our work ethic,” most of the participants already have jobs.

“Upon application, 68% of UpLift participants reported working full or part-time,” Ezzio said. “Other participants reported being unpaid caregivers, disabled, looking for work, or pursuing education. Less than 2% of participants identified that they were unemployed and not looking for work.”

Holt also questioned the validity of the study and how its participants were selected.

“It would be my conclusion that if you are laying the groundwork for a guaranteed-income program at the local, state, and federal level that you would handpick your participants carefully to achieve your desired result,” he said.

Ezzio said this is not the case.

“As a randomized control trial, UpLift is the ‘gold standard’ for study design to ensure that the study participant results are generalizable to the central Iowa population,” she said.

To achieve that, participant eligibility included up to 60% area median income—roughly $47,000 annually for a family of two—so the participant pool captures those who may be receiving public benefits as well as people who are working but still unable to meet basic needs.

Ezzio also noted the research is led by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Guaranteed Income Research (CGIR), which reviewed all applications to remove any duplicates and to ensure each eligible applicant had an equal chance of being selected to participate. CGIR utilized a random selection and assignment process to identify the 110 participants for the treatment group and the 140 participants for the control group.

While the full results of the study won’t be available until summer 2026, Ezzio said they have already seen a few success stories. Purchasing data has shown them the funds are being spent on basic needs such as groceries, transportation, housing, and utilities, but there’s more.

 “Anecdotally, UpLift project coordination staff have heard from some participants that they are securing safer, more stable housing, have been able to support their children in participating in extracurricular activities, and have been able to advance their education by paying to take the certified nursing assistant [CNA] exam, in addition to paying off debt, paying for rent and groceries, and otherwise meeting their basic needs,” Ezzio said.

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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